Rafael dos Anjos entered UFC 185 with an injury and left with a belt. | File photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Inconceivable though it may be, Rafael dos Anjos’ victory over Anthony Pettis was even more impressive than it appeared.
The 30-year-old Brazilian garnered a surprisingly lopsided unanimous decision over Pettis in the UFC 185 headliner at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday night, sweeping the scorecards with three 50-45 counts.
In winning for the ninth time in his last 10 appearances, dos Anjos had Pettis on the defensive from the outset. He battered the Roufusport product with hard punches and kicks on the feet and wore him down with persistent takedowns and ground-and-pound. As it turns out, dos Anjos did all of that at less than 100 percent.
After the bout, UFC President Dana White said that dos Anjos will eventually defend his belt against the winner of the UFC 187 matchup between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Donald Cerrone. However, a timetable for that bout is unknown because the newly crowned champion injured his knee in training camp a few weeks prior to UFC 185.
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“Apparently... he fought tonight with a blown MCL,” White said. “So, just my luck. The guy who wins the title is hurt.”
Dos Anjos confirmed the injury upon his arrival at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. He said he felt a pop in his knee while the “UFC Countdown” crew was filming a sparring session, and that limited his ability to train during the latter portion of his camp.
“I’m thankful for the fact I‘ve been so active my whole career, and I’ve never had any knee injury in my whole life. My knee is really tough; I’ve got a strong knee, but for the first time this happened,” dos Anjos said. “It was like three weeks ago. I couldn’t grapple. I couldn’t wrestle since that [happened].
“I don’t know if you guys noticed, but I didn’t kick at the open workout. I didn’t use any kicks because I was kind of dehydrated, and I didn’t want my injury to get even worse. But everything went perfect during the fight.”
Dos Anjos is optimistic that his recovery will be a relatively painless process.
“Actually I haven’t gone to the doctor yet. I need to get an MRI just to make sure,” he said. “I think it’s not bad. I will not need surgery. I felt a pop, but I think I will not need surgery.”
It was already hard not to marvel at dos Anjos’ performance. Pettis had not tasted defeat in the Octagon since falling to Clay Guida in his promotional debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” finale. That was an entirely different kind of loss, however, as Guida was largely content to neutralize Pettis with top control. Dos Anjos, on the other hand, was vicious in all aspects of the fight.
The strategy was [to chase] him, hit hard and make him scared of my hands,” dos Anjos explained. “Once I hit him, I think the fight changed. That was part of the game [plan] -- making him afraid of my punches and my kicks.”
Even as he racked up the victories, dos Anjos was largely overlooked during his rise to No. 1 contender. Meanwhile, Pettis was one of the promotion’s chosen ones, a fighter with an exclusive Reebok deal and a portfolio of highlights. On Saturday, he ran into a buzz saw.
“I didn’t think anybody could do that to Anthony Pettis,” White said. “He did that tonight. He absolutely dominated him everywhere. Beating Anthony Pettis is a big deal. In my eyes, what he did in that fight was unbelievable.”