Eric Bolte-US PRESSWIRE
After a unanimous decision win over Mark Bocek at UFC 154, his third in a row, lightweight submission specialist Rafael dos Anjos is ready to make a run at the 155-pound title. Can he make an impact in one of the promotion's most talented divisions?
Rafael Dos Anjos has had some ups and downs during his four year, 11 fight UFC career, but the Brazilian is very much in the ascendancy again after a dominant decision win over Canadian submission specialist Marc Bocek at UFC 154 last Sautrday night (Nov. 17, 2012) in Montreal.
See how it all went down here.
The 28 year old has endured some traumatic times since signing for the UFC in 2008 on the back of an 11-2 record. He lost his first two fights and was on the brink of an ignominious early exit from the Octagon and then spent almost a year on the sidelines after suffering a broken jaw during his loss to Clay Guida.
The win over Bocek was his third in quick succession and was particularly impressive due to the manner of victory, with Dos Anjos able to consistently outclass the Canadian for the full three rounds. The consensus, among the commentators at least, was that this performance had thrust the Brazilian from the periphery of the Lightweight picture firmly into title contention.
There are two things Dos Anjos wants to achieve in 2013, and he is hoping he will get the chance to knock both off his bucket list at the same time.
"For me a dream would be to fight for the title in Brazil. I grew up in the slums in Rio De Janeiro and I was fighting all the time just to survive so I would love to fight for a UFC title in the same city, in front of all my family and friends. I have not fought in Brazil for four years, I hope the UFC will give me the chance to fight there again."
If there is one thing we have learned in the last year it is that the rules governing who gets a title shot in the UFC are not set in stone. The introduction of either Eddie Alvarez or Gilbert Melendez could complicate the picture while the winner of the fight between Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis will also have a strong case, but Dos Anjos' recent record definitely makes him a contender.
He is not about to start making outlandish demands and says that, although the belt is very much on his mind, he is prepared to face another challenger or two first if he has to.
"I leave that up to Joe Silva and the UFC. Winning the title has always been my goal and I am happy that I am close to achieving that. I have never turned down a fight and I will fight as many opponents as I have to to get a shot at that title but I hope it will be sooner rather than later. I have won three fights in a row and have won seven out of my last nine fights so I think I must be close to a title shot, I hope so."
Dos Anjos' three recent wins have come in quick succession with him fighting three times in the space of just seven months. After appearing only sporadically since signing for the UFC he feels that the familiarity which comes from getting regular fights has helped propel him to a three fight winning streak.
"Yes, I think (it has helped) because if you fight regularly you get very used to being in the octagon and start to feel more at home. I am just happy that I have been able to stay fit and avoid being injured but I am looking forward to having a rest and spending time with my family this Christmas because I have been training almost non stop for the last nine months."
That training has taken him from Gordo Jiu Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro to Evolve MMA in Singapore to King's MMA in Los Angeles and Dos Anjos feels that this globetrotting approach to fight preparation has really paid off.
"I have learned a lot from all those places and training at Evolve MMA, King's MMA and Gordo Jiu Jitsu has helped me a lot. There are many great fighters in the UFC and you have to improve all the time and be ready to travel to new places and to train with new people to do that. I don't just want to train with MMA fighters, I want to train with the best boxers and Muay Thai fighters and BJJ guys and work on all the different areas of my game. That's why I train in three different countries, spending time away from home is hard sometimes but it is worth it."
Dos Anjos entered the UFC with a reputation as a grappler and he seemed to have no problems controlling fellow BJJ black belt Bocek on the ground but the most notable improvement to his game has been in the striking department.
He nailed Bocek with a couple of solid straight knees and also looked very strong in the clinch, something which he attributes to the training he received in Singapore.
"My Muay Thai has improved a lot because of the training at Evolve MMA. The trainers there are champions from Thailand and they have so much knowledge and experience and I learned a lot of tricks and because of that I was able to land some good knees in the clinch and also the standing elbows which are very important in Muay Thai, I think I might have cut him with an elbow, I'm not sure."
As well as the potential arrival of Alvarez and Melendez there is a lightweight bout between TJ Grant and Matt Wiman on the horizon while Khabib Nurmagomedov is rising rapidly up the rankings. Despite the wealth of potential opponents Dos Anjos was keeping tight lipped on the subject of future fights.
"The answer to this question is always the same, I will fight anyone the UFC asks me to. The 155 lbs division is very strong and there are many good fighters, I am ready to fight for the title now but if I have to fight another opponent first then I will do."
At least Dos Anjos can enjoy spending Christmas with his family safe in the knowledge that his UFC future is very much secure. Regardless of who he faces next 2013 is going to be a big year for the Brazilian and after having endured so much adversity he is just happy to have reached this point in his career.
"I feel blessed. I am lucky that so many people have supported me and believed in me, even when I lost my first two UFC fights and when I was injured and could not fight for a long time and I have great coaches like Rafael Cordeiro, Philipe Della Monica, Jacob Harman, Professor Gordo and Chatri Sityodtong and I am also lucky to have a beautiful wife who is very patient with me."