Now, more than ever, Brazil needs its champions to step up.
A dominant nation in the sport of MMA from the early days of Royce Gracie, Brazilians litter the list of UFC champions, from Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort to Junior Dos Santos and Jose Aldo, just to name a few.
But the roster of Brazilian UFC champions has dwindled in recent years, diminishing even further after UFC 194 when Aldo – the only holder of the featherweight title in UFC history – was dethroned in 13 seconds by Conor McGregor.
Enter Rafael dos Anjos.
A product of Rio de Janeiro, dos Anjos enters this weekend’s Fight Night Orlando for his first lightweight title defense against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone as one of two remaining sons of Brazil with a championship on their shoulders (the other being heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum).
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For a country as mad for the sport as Brazil – as evident by Google saying that six of the 10 most searched athletes in the country were MMA fighters – it can add quite a bit of pressure.
The added burden isn’t weighing dos Anjos down entering the weekend.
“We know that the Brazilians had a tough loss last weekend, but I don’t have any extra pressure,” dos Anjos said. “I do my own, I’m my own man. For sure, I don’t have any extra pressure. I worked hard to be in this position and it’s going to be hard to take (the championship) away from me. Brazil just lost one belt with Aldo, but it could win five more. It’s (the) fight game. Anything can happen.
“MMA is a new sport and it’s still growing (in Brazil). I’m happy to be a part of it, and to be building this. I think a lot of great things are coming”
Amongst those who may carry the burden along with dos Anjos in the future is fellow Fight Night Orlando fighter Junior Dos Santos, who goes up against heavyweight Alistair Overeem in Saturday night’s co-main.
“Cigano,” a former champion himself, is currently ranked second in the division and feels a win versus Overeem will put him in line against the winner of the UFC 196 main event between champion Werdum and top contender Cain Velasquez.
Should Saturday be the first step to regaining his crown, Dos Santos is keeping things in perspective.
“Of course I want to (give fans a reason to cheer), but it doesn’t put any pressure on me,” Dos Santos said. “I feel like I have to do my job and do the best I can to get the victory.
“Of course I want to give everybody good fights and good victories, but I’m doing that for the people who support me, my family and myself. When people say bad things about me I don’t read those things, I don’t like that. You can expect myself always doing my best during fights, but I don’t feel pressure that I have to do this or that. If I feel pressure, it’s for myself, my family and those that support me.”
Fight Night dos Anjos vs. Cowboy 2 is scheduled to begin with the early prelims on UFC Fight Pass beginning at 3:30 pm ET. The FS1 prelims start at 5 pm ET and features six fights before the main card is available live and for free on your local FOX affiliate at 8pm ET.
Jorge A. Mondaca is the Managing Editor of UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JorgeAMondaca