Brazil is known for churning out top notch mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters across all weight divisions. In fact, among all the male weight divisions in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), only one lacks a Brazilian fighter in its Top 5, according to the promotion's official rankings.
And that is the Lightweight division.
In fact, it has been a long time since any Brazilian has had any notable impact on the 155-pound division. However, a South American native, Rafael dos Anjos, appears to be on the road to a potential title shot after 12 appearances inside the Octagon. Indeed, dos Anjos has finally put the weight class on notice thanks to an impressive four-fight win streak.
And he'll look to make it five straight when he collides with Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 27, which takes place later tonight (Weds., Aug. 28, 2013) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. It's a high-profile match against a well-known opponent in a major primetime slot on FOX Sports 1.
That's quite the leap for a fighter who for some time seemed like a good grappler with sloppy striking. The same touted prospect who was mauled by Jeremy Stephens in his Octagon debut at UFC 91 way back in Nov. 2008. His Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills have always been top-notch, but over time he has developed a very polished striking game, as well as a solid wrestling game that he uses well defensively and offensively.
Dos Anjos has built himself into a very solid fighter, and he'll need to continue to hone these skills for at least two more fights if he wants to knock on the door of the 155-pound title, which is set to be defended this Saturday (Aug. 31, 2013) when Ben Henderson rematches Anthony Pettis at UFC 164.
It all starts with "Cowboy," who has invaluable experience against both Henderson and Pettis.
Indeed, the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) veteran has 26 professional MMA bouts under his belt and he is unlike any fighter dos Anjos has crossed paths with to date. In addition to being very skilled wherever the fight goes, Cerrone is a very long Lightweight, standing at 6' tall and able to use his length to his advantage. His kicks are brutal, an integral piece of a vicious all-around striking game that will punish any mistake his opponent makes.
However, Cerrone's under-rated grappling is perhaps the most dangerous element of his game, accounting for 13 career submission victories. In other words, even in dos Anjos' most comfortable area, Cerrone will certainly be able to challenge him and put him in danger if he is careless.
That said, dos Anjos will clearly need to be on top of his game for this fight with Cerrone. His striking will need to be improved, but the the in-and-out style he has utilized lately will be able to help him against the taller Cerrone. Even in his comfort zone, dos Anjos can not slack because if this fight hits the mat, "Cowboy" will definitely hunt for a finish, meaning that the Brazilian has little -- if any -- room for error.
If dos Anjos turns in a nearly flawless performance this Evening, Cerrone will certainly have his hands full. Dos Anjos is hitting his peak as a martial artist, which means that it's now or never for him to become the biggest Brazilian success story in the history of the UFC Lightweight division.
If he reigns supreme, there is no reason e could not be a fight or two away from title shot consideration. And that is very impressive for a fighter who seemed so one dimensional when he arrived on the big league scene. Dos Anjos is a rags-to-riches fighter who was once a middling journeyman and is now on the verge of being considered among the Top 5 talents in the world.
That progress alone makes him the "Fighter to Watch" at UFC Fight Night 27 on FOX Sports 1 this evening.