One of the fastest wins of Rafael dos Anjos’ career was also the biggest. The Brazilian lightweight became the first man to knock out former UFC champion Ben Henderson at UFC Fight Night 49, and his coaches knew that a flying knee could get the job done.
“I trained that knee a lot in the locker room with master Rafael Cordeiro,” dos Anjos told MMAFighting.com. “On my way to the Octagon, master Roberto Gordo told me ‘Rafael, do that knee because it’s working. Remember it, believe it.’”
dos Anjos, who told MMAFighting.com prior to the bout that he had seen some opening on Henderson’s game, wasn’t talking about his striking.
“I didn’t watch much of his fights, to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t like to watch too many tapes because sometimes you decide not to do something that you’re good at because your opponent counters it well. The knee was working and Gordo told me to believe in it. I saw he felt my overhand and tried to take me down, so I knew he was hurt.
“MMA is unpredictable, but I was ready for any situation. I got in there ready to patiently fight five rounds against a guy that had never been knocked out before, but I would throw him everything I got at him. And he felt that hand.”
Right after referee Big John McCarthy stepped in and stopped the fight, fans erupted on social media about the stoppage. Henderson also protested inside the cage, but dos Anjos doesn’t think he has a case.
“The referee is there to protect the fighter, and Big John stopped it on the right time,” the Brazilian said. “He’s there to protect the fighter, and Ben Henderson would get hurt if he hadn’t stopped the fight at that moment.
“He complained about it, but I told him inside the cage ‘Man, you were out,’ and he said ‘okay, good job.’ If he watches the fight against he’ll see that Big John made the right call. I felt he was out.”
Originally a grappling expert, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt now rides a two-fight win streak with both wins coming by way of knockout. With seven wins over the past eight bouts, the lightweight feels closer to the UFC championship.
“It was a big win. I’m here for any good opportunity, I want to fight and show my work,” he said. “I proved myself on Saturday night, but the division is really complicated right now. There are a lot of tough guys, but I’m here. I will be ready.”
UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis is expected to face Gilbert Melendez in December, while fellow top contenders Donald Cerrone and Eddie Alvarez clashing at UFC 178. dos Anjos is unsure what’s next, but he expects a big 155-pound match-up after he takes some time off after three fights in four months.
“I think it’s hard to say right now,” he said. “Cerrone will fight Alvarez, and we don’t know who will win. I think that one of these guys (could be next), there are really no other option right now. Khabib (Nurmagomedov) is out with a knee injury, T.J. Grant hasn’t fought in more than a year, so I don’t see any other option besides the winner of Cerrone vs. Alvarez or Pettis vs. Melendez.”
A former Bellator lightweight champion, Alvarez enters the Octagon coming off wins over Michael Chandler, Patricky Freire and Shinya Aoki, while Cerrone looks for his fifth win in a row after stopping the likes of Edson Barboza, Jim Miller and Evan Dunham.
The lightweight picture is so confusing that dos Anjos eyes the winner of Alvarez vs. Cerrone next, picks “Cowboy” to win at UFC 178, but believes that a rematch against him wouldn’t make sense right now.
“I don’t know if that would make sense,” said dos Anjos, who defeated Cerrone via decision at UFN 27 in 2013. “I beat Cerrone already, so I think he would have to face another one. This division is a mess.
“Cerrone and Alvarez, I think Cerrone (wins). He’s a whole other level of a fighter.”
Cerrone vs. Alvarez? Pettis vs. Melendez? Rematch with Nurmagomedov?
“I just beat the No. 1 contender,” he said, “but I don’t know what’s next for me.”