Rafael dos Anjos has worked hard to get a lightweight title shot. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Early in his Ultimate Fighting Championship tenure, it would have been difficult to imagine Rafael dos Anjos ascending to the top of the lightweight division.
The Rio de Janeiro native began his UFC career with consecutive losses to Jeremy Stephens and Tyson Griffin and was a relatively pedestrian 4-4 in the Octagon heading into 2012. Dos Anjos has been trending drastically upward since then, winning eight of his last nine fights to secure a 155-pound title shot against Anthony Pettis at UFC 185 on March 14 in Dallas.
It wasn’t until after his loss to would-be No. 1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC on Fox 11 that the Brazilian truly began turning heads, however. After a second-round stoppage of Jason High at UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque, dos Anjos became the first person to knock out Benson Henderson, polishing off the former lightweight king 2:31 into their encounter at UFC Fight Night in Tulsa.
He followed that with a dominant decision triumph over Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 13 this past December. With Nurmagomedov still recovering from knee surgery at the time, UFC President Dana White announced at the event’s post-fight press conference that dos Anjos would get the next crack at Pettis.
“Showtime” has been impressive in dispatching Henderson to win the title and then Gilbert Melendez in his initial defense. However, dos Anjos believes this opportunity has been a long time coming.
“[Pettis is] a really good fighter. He’s an unpredictable fighter. But I trained my whole life to try to get a title shot, and then I finally got it,” dos Anjos said during an interview on the ”MMA Rounds” show on the Sherdog Radio Network. “ I’m gonna take advantage of it. He’s a great champion, but I really believe it’s my time. God makes everything [happen] at the right time. He don’t give you a blessing for half [of something]; he gives you the whole thing. Now it’s my time to get a piece of this cake.”
Over time, dos Anjos, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, has showcased an ability to finish fights with his striking -- as evidenced by his surprising KO of Henderson last August. According to the surging lightweight, this is not by coincidence.
“I never go into a fight to try to win by decision. I always try to finish my opponent,” he said. “Sometimes it can happen, sometimes not. In my training I push hard. When I do sparring, I go 100 percent. I’m trying to knock guys out in the gym, too. I like to go hard always.
“I’m always looking to finish fights. ....I’m really looking forward to finishing my next fight too. “