Rafael Dos Anjos has not fought in Brazil since 2008 and is looking to mark his homecoming in emphatic style with a win over Evan Dunham at UFC on FX 8. It is a dream date for the lightweight title contender but the intense atmosphere he can expect on May 18 at Arena Jaragua brings with it some heavy expectations.
Every Brazilian fighter on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster wants to get on the cards in Brazil because they are guaranteed the support of possibly the most passionate mixed martial arts (MMA) crowd in the world but, while winning has the potential to be a career highlight, the prospect of losing in front of the hometown fans is barely palatable.
For Dos Anjos, this dilemma is intensified because he is closer than he has ever been to a title shot and the prospect of becoming the first ever Brazilian UFC lightweight champion is within his reach. Three straight wins have propelled him straight into the official top 10 (see rankings here) and a fourth would make him a genuine contender for the belt currently owned by Ben Henderson.
With so much pressure and so much at stake, many fighters would struggle to maintain their composure, but Dos Anjos is confident this won't be an issue.
"I do not feel any pressure, the crowd will push me up. I'm not a emotional fighter, I will not have any problem to put on my gameplan. I will get a great win to all Brazilian fans."
The Brazilian travels all over the world to train and most recently he has been training with Renato Sobral at King's MMA in California which will make his May homecoming all the more sweet.
"I've been in USA since January last year straight, so I'm very happy to see my family and friends again. Many of my friends will be there to see me fight."
Dos Anjos also spends several months every year at Evolve MMA in Singapore and Gordo Jiu Jitsu in Rio De Janeiro and believes that this willingness to travel and train in new places has been essential to his ascension up the UFC lightweight rankings.
"In each place you learn different things, different details and ways to do movements. For example, when I'm in Asia, I had the best Muay Thai training that I ever had at Team Evolve in Singapore and also many BJJ world champions, high level black belts and a wrestling coach in Heath Sims. So we have all that discipline in a single team. It's a perfect facility, the team that I represent and one of my favorite places to train, along with Kings MMA under Rafael Cordeiro."
After wins over Mark Bocek, Anthony Njokuani and Kamal Shalorus, the 28 year-old is putting his 18-6 record on the line against Dunham in Santa Catarina. Both men are jiu-jitsu black belts but Dos Anjos is extremely confident he will be the victor on May 18.
"He is a very tough fighter, he's got a big heart, but I'm very well prepared and I will win this fight for sure."
UFC fans are increasingly waking up to the realization that Dos Anjos is the real deal. He showed against George Sotiropolous that, despite his grappling credentials, he has the capability to finish fights with his fists and his feet, and his wrestling has been outstanding in recent outings.
Whether he has what it takes to dethrone Henderson, who is set to first face off with the winner of T.J. Grant vs Gray Maynard, remains to be seen, but with every win it is becoming more and more apparent that Dos Anjos deserves the chance to try.
With almost all the fighters above him in the rankings either coming off losses, competing in a different division or having already challenged unsuccessfully for the belt, one more victory could be all the Brazilian needs -- but he says he is looking no further than his fight against Dunham,
"I been training so hard and my goal is to keep winning my fights and when the opportunity for a title shot comes I will be ready for sure."