Mixed martial arts (MMA) careers always have their highs and lows, but Rafael Dos Anjos's has veered from one to the other more dramatically than most. He has experienced both ends of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) spectrum, from working his way towards a lightweight title shot, to facing up to the reality that he was almost certainly only one loss away from being cut.
He found his way into the UFC on the back of a nine-fight win streak but lost his first two fights, despite a "fight of the night" performance against Tyson Griffin. A third consecutive loss would almost certainly have seen him cast into the wilderness but when it mattered most, Dos Anjos came up with the goods, defeating Rob Emerson by unanimous decision at UFC 103.
This proved to be the start of a three-fight win streak, culminating in a "submission of the night" effort against Terry Etim. When Dos Anjos faced Clay Guida at UFC 117, a win would have cemented his status as a serious title contender -- but instead he was forced to tap due to pressure applied to a broken jaw in the third round of a fight which he appeared to be winning.
It was a massive setback for Dos Anjos.
Not only did it break his winning streak, but the jaw injury kept him out of action for an entire year. While the UFC lightweight landscape was being altered radically by the absorption of the WEC fighters, the Brazilian found himself on the shelf.
When he finally returned from injury to face George Sotiropoulos, he had a point to prove and he certainly did it in style, becoming the first fighter to ever stop the Australian. Dos Anjos is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)) black belt but his stand-up had improved beyond all recognition during his time recuperating, something he attributed to the time he spend working with the legendary Muay Thai trainers at Evolve MMA in Singapore.
Despite this, he chose to prepare for his next fight exclusively in Brazil and dropped a disappointing split decision loss to Gleison Tibau. With a UFC record of 4-4, he once again finds himself staring into the abyss but believes that his next fight, against Kamal Shalorus, should get him back on track.
"He is a very good wrestler but I think I'm a better fight than him, I have more weapons to win this fight. Coming off a loss definitely puts me under more pressure but that's okay, I am used to it!"
Dos Anjos believes that he did enough to win the first and third rounds in his fight against Tibau, but only one of the judges agreed with him. He says he will be changing certain things after that defeat, which came at the hands of a much bigger fighter, but his weight class won't be one of them.
"Dropping to featherweight would be impossible, no way. I cut a lot weight to fight at 155-pounds, and I feel very well in that class. I will be going back to Evolve MMA in Singapore to train, I never lost a fight when I do my camp there, UFN 20 against Kyle Bradley, UFC 112 against Terry Etim when I won 'submission of the night' and UFC 132 against Sotiropoulos when I got the KO."
Evolve MMA is home to some of the best Muay Thai fighters of all time such as Anuwat Kaewsamrit, Attachai Fairtex, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Orono Wor Petchpun and Lamnammoon Sor Summalee. These names might not mean much to mixed martial arts fans, but in Thailand, they are legends and no other MMA camp in the world can boast such a decorated stable of stand-up trainers.
Dos Anjos credits the training he received from the Thai trainers in Singapore with the improvement he made in his stand up going into UFC 132 and is looking forward to working with a couple of other top ranked lightweights as he prepares for his 'UFC on FUEL TV 3' fight in May.
"I was three months in Singapore before that fight with Sotiropoulos and I think that three months was essential to me winning the fight. I never had a chance to training with Shinya Aoki before but it's gonna be a big pleasure have a training with him, also Zorobabel Moreira who is a very talent fighter and has improved a lot his stand up skills, he is word champion in BJJ and I think he is ready for UFC for sure."
One man who he has trained with is the recently deposed UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar. Dos Anjos was brought in to help him prepare for his title defense at UFC 136 and feels that he benefited from the experience of working with the top lightweight in the world at the time.
"I was there for two weeks before his last fight with Maynard and I improved a lot my wrestling skills and to see how the champion trained was good too."
After eight fights in the UFC Dos Anjos is already a veteran despite being only 27 years old, almost an entire decade younger than the current pound for pound king Anderson Silva. He believes that he is constantly improving and evolving as a fighter and is a long way from reaching his peak.
"I think I already improved a lot since my first fight in the UFC but I still have a lot thing to learn and improve and I believe in myself that I can learn more and be stronger. I think that the peak of the fighter is 35 years old and I 'm very far from that."
After going through what he describes as a 'bad time' with the jaw injury, Dos Anjos is looking to fight as regularly as possible in 2012. He feels he has at least another 10 years in him as a fighter and wants to spend all of them in the UFC.
"Of course, I'm looking to stay in the UFC. If I take care of my body I can fight for 10 more years and I have two kids, so I need fight 10 more years!"
Dos Anjos already has a couple of UFC bonuses in his pocket and can count himself extremely unlucky not to have been awarded 'Knock out of the Night' after the win over Sotiropolous. His MMA career might have already been lucrative but coming from an impoverished upbringing he must understand the importance of financial security more than most.
On May 17, 2012, the money will be the last thing on his mind when he faces Shalorus at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia. Dos Anjos is desperate to get back on winning track, to work his way back up the rankings, to show that he is still a contender in the lightweight division and to lay the foundations for a UFC career which he hopes will last for at least another decade.