Fifteen fights into his UFC career, Rafael dos Anjos finally earned his first main event and he certainly made the most of it with a blistering performance to knock out former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the first round.
Despite his No. 5 ranking going into the night, dos Anjos was a decided underdog to Henderson and with good reason. Throughout his UFC and WEC career, Henderson had only lost to one opponent and that was current champion Anthony Pettis, but otherwise he’s been flawless throughout his career in the Octagon.
None of that matter to dos Anjos, who came out like a ball of fire as soon as the referee said go and he was throwing heavy leather aimed at Henderson’s head from the very start of the fight. It was a quick right hand that slipped through Henderson’s defense that set the tone and clearly showed he wasn’t looking for a way to pull off a decision.
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He was looking to stop Henderson in his tracks.
Following his early success, dos Anjos burst forward with a jumping double knee attack and it was the second one that landed flush, nailing Hendeerson in the chin and putting him down on the mat. Henderson got back to his feet just as quickly but then he ate a huge left hook from dos Anjos and as he fell to the ground again, his eyes rolled back and referee John McCarthy saw enough.
Dos Anjos erupted in celebration picking up the biggest win of his career, although it can’t be ignored that Henderson came right back to life and started hopping around the Octagon as if nothing happened. Still, the replay showed that when dos Anjos landed his left hand, Henderson was out if only for a few seconds.
"I knew my striking was better than his," dos Anjos said. "Ben Henderson’s a great champion, I respect him a lot. Now it’s my time."
The win marks dos Anjos’ second in a row and seventh out of his past eight, with his only blemish coming against fellow top-five ranked fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov in a bout earlier this year. Currently, Nurmagomedov is on the shelf with a knee injury so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that dos Anjos leapfrogs him in the title picture and lands a big fight that could earn him a shot at the belt in 2015.
As for Henderson, the former champion was classy in defeat despite potentially having an argument after the quick stoppage.
"I thought I was clear-headed; it is what it is," Henderson said. "You’ve got to take the ups with the downs, the downs with the ups, the good and the bad."
This will knock Henderson back a few spots from potentially earning another shot at the lightweight title although he remains a tough matchup for anybody fighting at 155 pounds in the UFC.