Rafael Dos Anjos (18-6, 7-4 UFC) vs. Evan Dunham (14-3, 7-3 UFC)
Dos Anjos and Dunham meet in a quality lightweight matchup on the main card in what could end up as a contender for “Fight Of The Night”. Dos Anjos enters the fight riding a three-fight win streak after defeating Mark Bocek at UFC 154 in November. Dos Anjos is 4-1 overall in his last five fights. Dunham got back into the win column by scoring a split decision win over Gleison Tibau at UFC 156 in February. After starting his career 11-0, Dunham is just 3-3 over his last six fights.
Fight Breakdown: Dos Anjos has gotten better every time he has stepped in the Octagon over the recent years as he has scored wins in seven of his last nine fights including putting together two three-fight win streaks. His only two losses during that stretch were to Clay Guida in a fight he was in control of until he was forced to submit due to a jaw injury, and a close split decision loss to Gleison Tibau in a fight that could have gone either way. He has risen to be ranked at number ten in the UFC rankings, and a fourth win in a row would set him up to be a potential title challenger in the near future. Dunham was once heralded as a future title challenger, but a tough stretch that has seen defeats in three of his last six fights has put him in the position of needing to build himself back up into contention. A win over Dos Anjos would certainly help out, and the only loss in Dunham’s last four fights is to T.J. Grant, a fighter who will be fighting for the UFC Lightweight Championship with a win in his next bout.
Both men have high-level jiu-jitsu skills as Dos Anjos and Dunham both hold black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and are high-level submission specialists. They have combined to score 14 submission wins in their 32 wins, though Dunham has not scored a submission win since January 2010. Both men have shown the ability to control solid ground competition, and their skills on the mat may negate each other. Both are able to work off of their backs well, and Dunham may have the slight edge in the fact that he has a wrestling background to go along with his jiu-jitsu skill, and he could control Dos Anjos just a little bit better on the ground. Dos Anjos does have some good takedowns, though, and he is very strong, but it would seem unlikely that he will be able to keep Dunham down on the ground.
On the feet will be where the fight will be decided. Both men are southpaws, which makes for an interesting battle as both will know what the other may be intending to land. Counter-striking will be important and Dunham has the slight advantage there. Dos Anjos showed some good knockout power when he knocked out George Sotiropoulos, and with improved boxing and footwork, his striking is better and not as predictable as it was when he debuted in the UFC in 2008. Dunham is very solid at landing his combinations, and he will attack with a lot of volume. He does not possess much one-punch knockout power, but his crisp combinations and ability to mix up his attacks with kicks and knees gives him an edge on the feet. Dunham is a relentless and diverse striker, and he has shown to be fearless, and Dos Anjos should look to take advantage of that, and he could surprise with a knockout though Dunham has only been finished once in his career.
Both men have excellent conditioning. Dunham prefers to dictate the pace of the fight and will willingly engage to turn a fight into an exciting brawl. Dos Anjos tends to be patient during fights as he attempts to execute a gameplan. Dunham will need to keep Dos Anjos at a distance with a steady amount of leg kicks, but Dos Anjos will look to counter with leg kicks of his own. Dunham has the more diverse striking, and it will make the difference as the fight should expect to go the full 15 minutes. Dos Anjos should try to force Dunham to fight recklessly as Dunham will then leave holes open for Dos Anjos to pounce on. This is an excellent job of matchmaking, and ultimately, whichever fighter dictates the location of the fight will be the one with his hand raised.
Why It Matters: Dos Anjos will catapult himself into the title hunt with another win, and it could move him as few as one fight away from securing a title shot. Dos Anjos has come on strong over the last 2 years since returning from the jaw injury suffered in his loss to Clay Guida. A win over Dunham would be huge and set him up for a possible matchup against possibly Josh Thomson or Pat Healy.
Dunham needs a win if he is ever gonna truly make a run at the UFC Lightweight Championship. He was well on his way to that level before suffering a close loss to Sean Sherk. That set him back just a tiny bit, but Melvin Guillard finishing him knocked him way down the ladder. It has been a steady climb back up, but the loss to T.J. Grant knocked him down a few notches yet again. A win over Dos Anjos gets him right back into the mix.