For Rafael dos Anjos, the decision to leave his native home and come to train in the U.S. has paid off.
Dos Anjos will challenge UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis for the title at UFC 185 in March from Dallas. Following three straight wins, and thanks to Khabib Nurmagomedov being injured, dos Anjos jumped to the front of the line.
“I think in 2012, I moved here and everything started changing,” he said, during a recent appearance on UFC Tonight. “I focused on my training. There was not so much distraction as in Brazil. I have better training partners.
“When I moved here, I said if I want to be champion, I’ve got to train with the best.”
Following five straight wins, including a victory over Donald Cerrone in 2013, UFC officials matched dos Anjos (23-7) up with Nurmagomedov. The unbeaten Nurmagomedov earned a decision, and the Brazilian was forced to re-think his strategy.
The loss sent him into a bout with Jason High, which he won via second round TKO. Just over two months later, dos Anjos stopped former champion Benson Henderson in the first round, adding a decision win vs. one-time contender Nate Diaz this past December to a 3-1 run in 2014.
“After the fight against Khabib, I stopped thinking about the belt,” he said. “I was so worried about it before the fight. Now, I’ve just been training, doing my job. I wasn’t thinking about it.
“Then I got it and I was so happy.”
Pettis, who returned from an extended layoff to finish Gilbert Melendez last year in his first title defense, has vowed to stop dos Anjos early.
“I think everybody talks, but then once it’s just me and him in the cage, I have 30 fights and more experience than he does and it’s going to make the different,” he said. “If he thinks he’s going to knock me out, let’s see. I’m going to answer this question on March 14.”