Dos Anjos was looking to prove analysts who had ranked him in the top 10 of the crowded UFC lightweight division correct, but he had a tall task ahead of him in Evan Dunham, one of the grittiest fighters in the promotion.
Both men had their moments early on as dos Anjos scored with powerful kicks against Dunham, who was a notorious slow starter. Dunham's striking defense seemed to rely on trying to injure dos Anjos' fists with his face early on, but he still managed to get his licks in, firing back from the cage center with left and right hands whenever an opening presented itself.
Just when it seemed dos Anjos was going to run away with the first round, Dunham grabbed a leg kick and forced him off balance, taking top position for a solid minute before getting stood up at the end of the frame.
Dunham came out in the second round aggressively looking to repeat his success with takedown attempts to open the second round, but the Brazilian fended them off this time around.
Both men ate big shots on the feet in relatively even striking exchanges, although dos Anjos began bleeding out of the corner of his right eye.
The third round was more of the same with even trades of strikes while Dunham mixed in some takedown attempts, although Dunham did a solid job of being the aggressor, although that didn't necessarily translate to getting the better of the exchanges. Both men threw down until the final bell.
When it came time to go to the judges, they sided with dos Anjos in controversial fashion 29-28 across the boards.
So how did the judges side with dos Anjos in such a close fight? To me, dos Anjos had a few advantages here. The fight was very close on the feet, and while Dunham was the aggressor and held control of the cage center, he wasn't able to capitalize on the position by pressing an advantage and forcing dos Anjos to fight on his heels. Instead, dos Anjos responded with some powerful kicks and seemed to be throwing the harder shots.
To top it off, the Brazilian crowd reacted much stronger to everything dos Anjos connected with and that could have factored into the judge's consensus, potentially giving the homefield advantage to dos Anjos when he desperately needed it.
Dunham is normally a cardio machine, but neither man seemed to hold much of a cardio edge in the final round as the bout edged closer to the final bell.