Two of the most entertaining lightweights in the UFC will collide this Wednesday night (July 11, 2012) as top young Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos faces knockout artist Anthony Njokuani in the opening bout of the UFC on FUEL TV 4 main card in San Jose, California.
Dos Anjos started a little slow, but he's really progressed inside the Octagon as of late. The talented Brazilian submission specialist has added some nice striking and power to his stand-up game and is become a very well-rounded mixed martial artist. He'll be looking to showcase all of his skills on Wednesday night.
Anthony Njokuani was a knockout machine in the WEC but they have been harder to come by since he was brought over to the big show. He's alternated wins and losses thus far in his UFC career and he'll be looking to end that pattern tomorrow night.
Will dos Anjos take over with his superior ground game? Can Njokuani get that coveted first UFC knockout? What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out :
Rafael dos Anjos
Record: 16-6 overall, 5-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Rafael dos Anjos, like most Brazilians, got his start on the local circuit in his native Brazil. After a 2-2 start to his professional career, the Evolve MMA fighter went on a solid nine fight winning streak which brought him to the UFC.
His UFC career didn't get off to a great start record-wise, as he would lose his first two fights to Jeremy Stephens and Tyson Griffin, but he left an extremely good impression by having both opponents in serious trouble before allowing them to rally. Who can forget that vicious calf slicer he almost finished Tyson Griffin with?
Dos Anjos began to show his potential after the Griffin loss, winning three straight including an impressive "Submission of the Night" against Terry Etim at UFC 112. This earned him a bout against the always relevant Clay Guida.
In that fight, the Brazilian was in control before breaking his jaw and Guida capitalized, squeezing on his chin to force a tap. Once again, dos Anjos would bounce back, this time by absolutely massacring George Sotiropoulos at UFC 132 via knockout in the first minute.
After a hard-fought loss to Gleison Tibau, dos Anjos again showcased the improvements in his striking by completely working over Kamal Shalorus, knocking the Iranian import down before choking him out in just 100 seconds. Now, he's drawn a bout against the always game striker Anthony Njokuani.
How he gets it done: While dos Anjos has showcased serious improvements in his striking, I feel that standing and trade with Njokuani would be an extremely poor decision. He's developed enough that he can hang with the WEC veteran for a while, but he should honestly be trying to stand only long enough to set up a good takedown or clinch attempt.
Dos Anjos' biggest strength his still his tremendous ground game. He's very diverse in his submission attack and he's got a lot of weapons in his arsenal. If he can put Njokuani on the ground, he's going to increase his odds of winning this fight nearly tenfold.
On the ground, he's extremely aggressive and if he can grab a hold of Njokuani's neck, an arm, a leg or anything, he just needs to make sure his grip is tight and he'll very likely force the tap.
Record: 15-6 (1 No Contest) overall, 2-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Anthony Njokuani got off to a hot start in his MMA career, going 9-1 on the local circuit with his lone loss being to current top UFC contender Donald Cerrone. He made his WEC debut in January of 2009 but would unfortunately get choked out by another top UFC lightweight contender in Ben Henderson.
The fighter originally hailing from Nigeria would bounce back, however, with a tremendous run of three consecutive "Knockout of the Night" performances which included tremendous finishes of IFL standouts Bart Palaszewski and Chris Horodecki. The talented striker would come up short against Shane Roller during the WEC 48 pay-per-view, getting taken down by the elite grappler and submitted in the first round.
Njokuani would go 1-1 in the rest of his WEC bouts and would draw Edson Barboza in his UFC debut after the promotions merged. The bout would be filled with highlight reel strikes but he would come up short, although he took home a nice "Fight of the Night" bonus as compensation. The Muay Thai fighter would take out his frustration on Andre Winner in his next fight at UFC 132, absolutely obliterating the Brit over the course of three rounds with one of the most one-sided beatdowns you will ever see.
He accepted a bout against another UK fighter in Paul Taylor after his victory but after that bout fell through, he ended up squaring off against Danny Castillo on late notice and was outwrestled for three rounds. Njokuani bounced back with a strong performance against Jon Makdessi in his last bout and now he's back to facing tough lightweight prospects like Rafael dos Anjos.
How he gets it done: Njokuani is all about finding the perfect range. Rafael dos Anjos is a very solid ground fighter so the "Assassin" needs to create a little separation and go to work. Njokuani should have a significant power and technique advantage over dos Anjos so if he can either stay on the outside and work his kicks or get inside and work his tremendous Muay Thai, either would be acceptable tactics.
On the feet, he's just got to be wary of dos Anjos' big haymaker hooks, which have repeatedly found a home in his recent victories.
Footwork will be key here as well. Njokuani showed against Andre Winner that he can be absolutely brutal if he can trap his opponent against the fence and lay into them with strikes. He also can dominate his opponent from a distance with superior kicking attacks on the outside. Winning this fight for Njokuani is all about either pounding dos Anjos on the inside with Muay Thai without getting taken down or by staying on the outside with his kicks.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight has to be the improvement in dos Anjos' striking and whether it's going to give him too much confidence to stand and bang with Njokuani. We've seen it time and time again where a fighter starts to round out his skills and he falls in love with something new instead of what brought him to the big show in the first place.
If dos Anjos tries to turn this into a stand-up war, he could be in for some trouble.
Bottom Line: This bout has a ton of potential. Both Njokuani and dos Anjos are powerful on the feet while dos Anjos is also an absolute technician on the canvas. Wherever this fight goes, something awesome is going to happen. I think Njokuani has an edge on the feet, but not by as much as some would think. There's serious possibilities of a "Knockout of the Night," "Fight of the Night," or even "Submission of the Night" during this bout so you won't want to miss this one at all.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 4? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!