Fighters finding their groove fall into a special category where all intangible attributes are locked away.
Alongside other immeasurable qualities like momentum and determination, fighters coming into their own under the bright lights is something that occurs but becomes difficult to gauge in the statistical realm. Yet, the aforementioned elements are directly tied to confidence, and when a competitor's self-belief in his talents falls in line with his actual skills, then something special happens.
This chain of events produces victories in mixed martial arts, and those wins push a fighter closer to a championship opportunity. This is the arc that can be statistically measured, and there is no denying the climb Rafael dos Anjos has made to become the No. 1 contender to the UFC lightweight crown. That said, there has been no express lane where RDA's journey through the 155-pound division is concerned.
For more than seven years, the scrappy Brazilian has been competing inside the Octagon, and during that time he's notched 17 showings in the lightweight fold. Of those bouts, Dos Anjos has found success in 12, but it's his five most recent fights that have made the difference.
The Rafael Cordeiro-trained lightweight has squared off with a collection of the best talent in what is arguably the organization's deepest division over that stretch and has knocked off a collection of contenders and a former champion in the process.
Wins over talented fighters such as Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone certainly don't come easily, but Dos Anjos made it look that way inside the cage. Save for a unanimous-decision loss at the hands of undefeated Dagestan-born phenom Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC on Fox 11 last April, it's been nearly three years since the seasoned veteran has suffered a setback.
He's been victorious in eight of his last nine bouts and has pulled off dramatic upsets in the biggest fights over his current run. Nevertheless, those elements were necessary for the King's MMA representative to find the best of what he has to offer, and Dos Anjos will be looking to put everything he has into his bid to derail Anthony Pettis and become the new lightweight champion at UFC 185 in Dallas on March 14.
"This is going to be the perfect moment for me," Dos Anjos told Bleacher Report. "God makes everything in perfect time, and he doesn't give you anything you can't handle. This is my time for the title now. I've had 17 fights over almost six years, and now it's my chance. He's given me this chance, and I'm going to have my hand raised at the end of the fight.
"It's extra motivation for me to be the underdog. I like it. I'm very happy about that, and there is no pressure coming into this fight. I'm always the underdog, and I go in there and win the fights. This fight is not going to be any different."
With Showtime and the lightweight strap now locked into his cross hairs, Dos Anjos will hit the Octagon in Dallas with years of experience and progression at his back. Where he once struggled to adjust to the level of competition upon hitting the sport's biggest stage back in 2008, over time he's become a versatile and dangerous fighter with the caliber of gas tank that serves to complement a well-rounded skill set.
There is no doubt the talented young champion will bring his notorious brand of flair and out-of-nowhere brand of danger he always seems to produce, but Dos Anjos believes he will be ready.
In his mind, every step taken—both good and bad—has prepared him for what he sees as the crowning moment in his career. The 30-year-old Rio de Janeiro native plans to bring his best to Dallas and is confident he will exit the Octagon with UFC gold strapped around his waist.
"This is going to be a great fight for the fans," Dos Anjos said. "I'm in the best shape of my life, and I've been improving more and more with every fight. I was in good shape when I fought Ben Henderson, then I showed up in even better shape against [Nate] Diaz. I will be in even better shape for this fight. My goal is to always be improving my skills. This is going to be crazy and a good fight for the fans.
"I can't wait to get in there and prove people wrong. I'm going to go in there and show everyone they picked against the wrong guy."
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.