In lightweight action, British standout Terry Etim (14-2, 5-2 UFC) will battle Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafael Dos Anjos (13-4, 2-2 UFC) in what could be considered a battle to gain a relevant spot in the gray area separating the middle and upper echelons of the division. Etim is riding a four-fight win streak with victories over Shannon Gugerty, Justin Bucholz, Brian Cobb, and Sam Stout while Anjos is also on a current two-fight win streak with wins over Kyle Bradley and Rob Emerson.
The match-up for both men will likely determine whether or not they have the skills to move up into some more relevant battles in the division. Both Etim and Dos Anjos entered the UFC with some pretty stiff challenges as Dos Anjos spectacularly ate a "Tiger Uppercut" from Jeremy Stephens (Yeah, I made a Sagat reference) and lost via unanimous decision to Tyson Griffin after failing to complete a calf slicer. Etim won his debut over Matt Grice, but he was subsequently dumped into the deeper end against Rich Clementi and Gleison Tibau.
Etim has enjoyed a streak of victories against lesser competition, and he's used these battles inside the Octagon as a way in which he can improve his skills. Training at Team Kaobon with British fighters Paul Kelly, Paul Taylor, and prospect Paul Sass along with a number of Muay Thai and kickboxing specialist has surely honed his striking skills. He also works with the Renovacao Fight Team, a Luta Livre school in Rio De Janiero run by Marcio "Cromado" Barbosa. The school is home to fighters such as Luciano Azevedo, Alexandre Ferreire, Carlos Alberto, and Luis Dutra Jr., and it has a reputation for being one of the up-and-coming camps in Brazil.
The combination of training has greatly improved Etim as a threat in the division, and his 6'1" frame is also another obstacle that opponents must wade through in order to attack. With solid Muay Thai and kickboxing abilities in such a lengthy frame, he's become a real challenge in the stand-up department, but he also happens to have a number of slick submissions under his belt as he did win 'Submission of the Night' bonuses in his last two victories.
Dos Anjos is currently training out of Evolve MMA, a Singapore-based gym, with Brazilian jiu-jitsu grappling champions Rafael "Gordinho" Correa de Lima, Roberto "Gordo" Correa de Lima, a bevy of Muay Thai champions, and Antonio Braga Neto Teixeira. The team will also enjoy the honor of cornering Renzo Gracie at UFC 112.
From the postings on Evolve's blog regarding Dos Anjos' preparation for this fight, Muay Thai has been a huge priority, With all of the world class talent that Dos Anjos has at his disposal, we should see a heavy improvement in his technical striking. The length will obviously be a huge problem for anyone fighting Etim, but Dos Anjos also has fail-safe skills in his Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques. He's been training against heavier guys who fit the same length as Etim, and that should help Dos Anjos on the ground as Etim should be weaker than most of the heavier guys Anjos has rolled with.
This is somewhat of a tough fight to call. Etim was my immediate pick in this fight due to his long length, solid striking, and deceptive submission ability, but Dos Anjos has a lot more world class training at his disposal and a better ground game. He should be the better technical Muay Thai fighter, but at 6'1" -- it's going to be tough for Dos Anjos to grab a Thai plum or punish Etim in the fence.
The question becomes whether or not we can believe the hype coming out of Evolve MMA. Obviously, their team is highly optimistic in their fighter's skills, but Dos Anjos seems to have had one of the best camps in his career and has improved in both his BJJ and Muay Thai techniques since his last fight. By no means does this mean he'll suddenly become a powerhouse finisher, but he does possess the skills to be far more refined in some areas of this fight than Etim.
In my mind, Etim should be the better striker as he already has a significant advantage with his frame. Dos Anjos will likely be the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt he's faced, but long-limbed fighters who have an active guard can be surprisingly slick in transitioning to submissions. Etim is one of those fighters, and that truly makes the ground game a question mark for any of his opponents.
Dos Anjos is probably going to try to stand and bang in this fight however, and while he might actually end up having the technical edge -- Etim is going to lace his knees and legs with low kick/high kick combinations while maintaining distance with the jab. Etim isn't impervious to knockdown shots, but Dos Anjos hasn't been very explosive in his delivery. I'll take Etim via decision over a three round war, but Anjos may definitely garner some bets from my end.