Rafael Dos Anjos seems to have slipped under the radar for fight fans recently, but after almost a year on the sidelines the Brazilian is right back in title contention. He has won four out of his last five fights and is coming off the most emphatic win of his career over George Sotiropoulos.
That victory, at UFC 132, was particularly significant because not only did Dos Anjos finish a top lightweight contender in less than minute but it was the first knockout victory of his career.
In the past he had featured in some exciting and competitive fights, but his wins would typically be by decision or submission. However after being away from the octagon for the best part of a year, Dos Anjos has transformed his stand-up game by training with some of the best Muay Thai fighters on the planet at Evolve MMA in Singapore.
Dos Anjos was denied the UFC 132 knockout of the night bonus, which many felt he deserved after becoming the first man to ever finish Sotiropoulos, but if he can overcome the challenge of Brazilian veteran Gleison Tibau in his next fight, he will be right up there in title contention.
After losing his first two UFC fights, Dos Anjos found his back up against the wall. He took on Rob Emerson at UFC 103 knowing that he was one loss away from almost certain UFC extinction but managed to get his career back on track with a decision win.
He followed that up with another decision win over Kyle Bradley and his next performance, an armbar victory over Terry Etim, saw him awarded submission of the night. He was riding a three-fight win streak when he took on Clay Guida at UFC 117 in a fight which was extremely close and competitive but unfortunately did not go the Brazilian's way, as he was forced to tap out due to a jaw injury.
Since then he has spent several months in Singapore working with the team of Muay Thai world champions at Evolve MMA, and the results were there for all to see as he brutally dispatched Sotiropolous with a perfectly-timed right hand.
Orono Wor Petchpun, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Attachai Fairtex, Yoddecha Sityodtong, Lamnammoon Sor Sumalee and Anuwat Kaewsamrit might not exactly be household names in the US, but in Thailand, the spiritual home of stand-up fighting, they are all legends.
They are all now based at Evolve MMA in Singapore, and it is no coincidence that Dos Anjos was able to find previously-unsuspected knockout power so late in his career after working with this decorated team of trainers.
Dos Anjos already has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but after spending so much time in Asia he has added some serious stand-up skills to his already impressive arsenal. His name might not often be talked about in the context of the 155-lbs title picture, but the Brazilian has the ability to be a match for almost anyone in the division.
At present, the list of lightweight contenders is an impressive one, including Donald Cerrone, Clay Guida, Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis, with Gilbert Melendez set to add his name to the list. There is no shortage of competition for the belt currently worn by Frankie Edgar, and they will all be keeping a close eye on the contest between Tibau and Dos Anjos to see which of the two Brazilians will succeed in cementing their status amongst the division's elite.
If Dos Anjos does win his second successive fight, his decision to divide his time between Brazil and Singapore in order to be able to train with the best in the world at different disciplines will have paid dividends.
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