While RdA soars, Cerrone skid continues

That four-fight winning streak Rafael dos Anjos took into his lightweight fight Wednesday against Donald Cerrone was looked upon with some skepticism.

Just who had dos Anjos beaten en route to earning top-10 consideration, exactly? Mark Bocek, Evan Dunham, Anthony Njokuani: All are formidable mixed martial artists, but not contender-worthy at this time.

During that four-fight run, dos Anjos succeeded in raising a few eyebrows by demonstrating improved striking skills. His submission abilities have never come under scrutiny, and rightfully so. But he was facing a serious challenge in Cerrone, a top-10 lightweight with title aspirations still firmly in his mind.

To earn his way into contender status, dos Anjos had to beat Cerrone. That was something most observers did not expect him to do at UFC Fight Night 27’s co-main event in Indianapolis.

Dos Anjos would prove the skeptics wrong, and in a major way. He handled Cerrone, who began the bout ranked seventh among lightweights by ESPN.com, during the first two rounds, and in surprisingly easy fashion.

His attack was relentless, and his strikes -- both kicks and punches, especially the right hand -- had Cerrone on the defensive just seconds into the fight. By the third round, it was understood by all that Cerrone needed a finish to keep his title hopes afloat. But that never happened, as dos Anjos played a bit safe in the final round to secure a unanimous decision.

With his work against Cerrone complete, dos Anjos’ winning streak sits at five. The difference now: The validity of the streak is no longer questioned.

Defeating Cerrone in lopsided fashion puts dos Anjos on the lightweight contenders’ list. No doubt about it. Another 155-pound opponent awaits dos Anjos. He likely will enter that bout as the underdog as well, but expectations will be higher. And dos Anjos is prepared to meet them.

“This win over Cerrone is my fifth straight, so I’ve taken a big step forward in my career,” dos Anjos said after improving to 20-6. “Whenever the UFC thinks I’m ready for a title shot, I’d be honored to take it.”

Confidence is one thing dos Anjos isn’t lacking. A five-fight winning streak, including one over Cerrone, will do that for any lightweight.

Cerrone, on the other hand, has no excuse for his lackluster performance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He was adamant before the bout that a pending legal matter was not a distraction.

In every sense, Cerrone seemed prepared to leave the cage Wednesday night victorious. Dos Anjos was not supposed to be in his league -- on paper, at least.

But something just didn’t seem right with Cerrone. Maybe thoughts of that third-degree assault charge eventually weighed on him after all. Maybe it was those hard kicks and right hands -- especially that right hook to the jaw from dos Anjos that dropped Cerrone in the opening round.

Whatever the reason, Cerrone (20-6, with one no contest) must pick himself up, dust himself off and get back in the cage as soon as possible. He loves fighting regularly -- Wednesday’s bout was his third this year. And when he returns, Cerrone must get back to being that aggressive, hard striker fight fans have come to know and enjoy watching.

Cerrone is not completely out of the lightweight title hunt yet, but he is walking on thin ice. Two losses in three fights can’t be brushed off easily.