To best summarize 2016 for Rafael Dos Anjos the following statement applies:
The ceiling has caved in and the ground beneath me is crumbling
The former Rafael Cordeiro trained fighter has dominated the lightweight division successfully for two years and captivated fight fans around the world with three fight of the night performances (Cerrone/Pettis/Henderson). His fighting style is not only aggressive with a flurry of combinations but he pressures his opponent with their back to the cage to control the outcome of his strikes.
The Pettis performance not only won him the UFC lightweight championship belt but it turned MMA on its axis because at that point Pettis was on his way to being considered for the top pound for pound spot. But Dos Anjos dominated Pettis from round to round and from one side of the octagon to the other in a five round fight.
However for me the turning point for Dos Anjos being considered a phenom in the Lightweight division was the first defense of his belt against Cerrone in their second fight. Cerrone in any weight class is considered a “wizard of the octagon” just look at his combination of strikes used to finish Rick Story to understand my term of phrase. But Dos Anjos annihilated Cerrone in the first round of that fight with a barrage of punches and a body kick that would have halved most fighters up the middle and ended the fight with a TKO in round 1. At this juncture Dos Anjos looked untouchable and unbeatable.
On his second defence against Eddie Alvarez you could sense a change in the air before that fight. Eddie from the get-go pressured Dos Anjos and was not afraid to mix it up and tagged Dos Anjos with a beauty of a looping right hand and chin sapping uppercuts to end the fight and Dos Anjos’s grip on the Lightweight division. For a second time the axis of MMA had been turned but not in his favour and a changing of the guard took place in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On the road to redemption and in the second half of a training camp for Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson in Mexico. Dos Anjos decides to leave Kings MMA. A significant shift for him because these were the trainers and the coaches that not only propelled him to UFC gold but they were family, in order to start his own gym. Switching training camps especially one that bore fruit always provides mixed results for a fighter because it takes time to gel into a new training regime. But Dos Anjos was doing this before facing a fighter who was chasing a nine fight win streak and in which he needs to win in order to correct the loss of the Alvarez but to show his fans and future opponents that he is indeed “top dog” and in contention for a title shot.
Dos Anjos lost a unanimous decision against Tony Ferguson from Rounds 2-5 he was out struck and couldn’t find a suitable pattern to combat the unusual striking and movement of Ferguson. In between rounds the messages from the corner didn’t have a clear/consistent message like they had before. There was too many for RDA to digest in the few seconds a corner team has with its fighter. The fight rightfully deserved “fight of the night” plaudits but I believe Dos Anjos looked like a shell of his former self after looking so promising in round one.
To set the scene for 2017 hopefully there will be a sunrise for RDA to spark the fire in his belly that not only propelled him to championship level but to be revered as being the most fearsome and aggressive fighter the lightweight division has ever seen but for the moment it’s damage limitation.