Rafael Dos Anjos Makes a Mess of the UFC's Lightweight Title Picture

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterAugust 24, 2014

USA Today

When Benson Henderson fights, you can usually count on getting comfortable. There's time to secure your popcorn, visit the loo and make sure your stamp collection is in order.

There is no rush, no funny feeling in your stomach, no threat of imminent violence. There's just a man, a fence and a clinch. It's a formula that's led to nine decisions in his last 11 fights.

So you can forgive me for settling in for the long haul Saturday night just as Rafael dos Anjos redrew the lines of an incredibly complicated lightweight landscape with an incredible flying knee. Dos Anjos, it seemed, wasn't willing to wait for one of Henderson's patented controversial decision finishes. It was late, he was hungry and there was no sense in delaying gratification. 

A left hand followed the knee, and Henderson's legs dropped out from underneath him, eyes going googly for just a split second as referee/icon "Big" John McCarthy approached. He had seen more than enough. And, though Henderson would politely protest by running in place immediately thereafter—his faculties returned after McCarthy's timely intervention—it was the right call in the moment. 

"I went there to fight five rounds, to be patient," Dos Anjos told Fox Sports 1's Heidi Androl after the bout. "But if I had the opportunity to finish, I was going to finish. Everything went perfect."

It was the perfect finish for Dos Anjos—but not for anyone seeking clarity in the UFC's suddenly crowded lightweight title picture.

Before the fight, Henderson had been ranked No. 1 in the division, just behind champion Anthony Pettis. Behind him was Gilbert Melendez, the Strikeforce champion. Undefeated Dagestani wrestling machine Khabib Nurmagomedov followed, then adrenaline junkie Donald Cerrone, with Dos Anjos bringing up the rear of the top five.

That's a lot of contenders. But that doesn't begin to describe the morass. Khabib, you see, has beaten Dos Anjos, who beat Cerrone and Henderson, who beat Melendez, who has beaten no one in the midst of a contract holdout that ended in a guaranteed title shot.

And then there is newcomer Eddie Alvarez, the Bellator champion who makes his promotional debut against Cerrone in September at UFC 178.

Lightweight Title Picture
FighterLast BeatLast LostStatus
Anthony PettisBen HendersonClay GuidaChampion
Gilbert MelendezDiego SanchezBen HendersonChallenger
Khabib NurmagomedovRafael dos AnjosN/ADark horse
Donald CerroneJim MillerRafael dos AnjosCharismatic favorite
Rafael dos AnjosBen HendersonNurmagomedovLost in the middle
Eddie AlvarezMichael ChandlerMichael ChandlerThe new guy
Ben HendersonRustam KhabilovRafael dos AnjosEnd of the line

It's quite a busy scene. So, where does Dos Anjos stand? He's not quite ready to think about it.

"Right now I need to take some time off. It's my third fight in four months," he told Androl. "I need to give some attention right now to my family, my kids."

It was a polite non-answer, but a non-answer isn't going to make the question go away. Unfortunately, despite this knockout win, Dos Anjos has essentially none of the attributes the UFC looks for in a title contender. He's not a dynamic communicator and, when all things are considered, will likely be pushed behind the winner of Cerrone vs. Alvarez—two men with charisma to spare.

And they must wait for Melendez and Pettis to finally enter the cage after almost a year on the sideline. 

If Dos Anjos is going to step into the cage for the belt, it will likely be in late 2015—or beyond. That means he'll have to continue fighting, and winning, to keep his spot in a long line. That's OK, though. If the Henderson fight is any indication, he's got the fighting part all figured out.