Wins in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight division are very difficult, but then factor in having to do it in hostile territory, and the mixed martial arts (MMA) mission becomes even more of a challenge.
Evan Dunham will have to face those long odds later this evening (Sat., May 18, 2013) when he walks into Arena Jaragua in Santa Catarina, Brazil, to take on Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on FX 8. Their 155-pound fight will establish the winner as a force in the crowded division, while the loser will tumble down the rankings.
This is a fight that will be fought tooth-and-nail by both men, and with the significant impact it will have on both of their careers, neither man is about to take it lightly.
Dos Anjos, who enters the fight on a three-fight win streak, has recently made a name for himself as a top lightweight, notching wins over Kamal Shalorus, Anthony Njokuani and Mark Bocek. Indeed, the Brazilian has established himself as the No. 10-ranked fighter in the UFC's official rankings. Since entering the UFC on a winless (0-2) streak, he has honed his skills very well in the wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and striking departments.
And his maturity in these areas has shown in his recent performances.
Dunham, a UFC fighter since UFC 95, has made a name for himself as a scrappy, aggressive fighter who always puts on entertaining fights. His game is most impressive on the mat, where he uses his lanky limbs and jiu-jitsu prowess to attack and threaten opponents with reckless abandon. His striking game, while not the most technical, is very effective and it has led him to wins over tough opposition.
Two main contrasts between these two are what make me believe this will be an interesting fight. First, their very different striking approaches may provide for interesting clashes, and second, their ground games are very skillful, but very different, which may also create entertaining clashes.
When the fight starts, expect dos Anjos to take a calm, cool approach to striking, takeing his time to find range in the opening portions, whereas Dunham will look to get right to business, attacking from the opening bell with long range punches. Dos Anjos' improved striking game comes with very improved movement and footwork, and I expect him to use that throughout the fight to keep Dunham guessing.
If their recent fights are any indication, these men both know how to put on an interesting and calculated striking battle. Dos Anjos operates very well at range, with whipping kicks and heavy long-range punches that punish opponents from the outside. Dunham's striking is very aggressive, and occasionally technical, using wide punches as well as stinging one-two combinations to strike opponents from the outside.
In close, these men are not always so consistent, as they have both had mixed results in the clinch and at very close striking range. Dos Anjos' clinch is technical and damaging, but he is also susceptible to being out-muscled here, which was very noticeable in his loss to Gleison Tibau. Dunham's clinch game can be very violent, but he can be outdone if he is being pressured, as shown in his loss to T.J. Grant, which saw him lose multiple striking exchanges when pressed up against the cage.
If the fight hits the mat, be prepared to see an interesting ground battle with some interesting techniques, as these two men are very skilled jiu-jitsu fighters. Dos Anjos takes a slightly calmer approach, with a solid positional game as well as an array of conventional submission attacks within his arsenal. Dunham sports a more aggressive approach, and he will contort his limbs into any position necessary to achieve a submission against his opponent. This means he will attack with some unconventional submissions from unexpected positions, which can definitely keep any opponent on defense.
Ultimately, I expect this fight to be contested largely on the feet -- at range and in the clinch. Dos Anjos' improved striking game deserves respect, but Dunham will give it none as he presses forward at a blistering pace throughout the fight. The bout will be controlled by the fighter who can find his range most effectively, and the tide will keep turning as they battle in the clinch and at range.
There isn't much of a question as to what I think will happen when these two hook 'em up this evening. They will put together a stand up fireworks display, and the battle won't end if it does end up hitting the mat. At UFC on FX 8, Rafael dos Anjos vs. Evan Dunham may deliver the "Fight of the Night," a classic scrap that you definitely don't want to miss.