UFC Lightweight champ Dos Anjos started out earning $100 per fight

UFC lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos. Photo courtesy of Evolve MMA.
UFC lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos. Photo courtesy of Evolve MMA.

Rafael Dos Anjos makes it clear that a career in fighting does not always come with huge cash prizes and a hoard of female admirers.

“There have been many occasions where I felt like quitting. The journey was tough – in the earlier days of my career I worked so hard but the money was little. I used to earn only 100 bucks per fight and I was fighting nearly every week just to make ends meet,” the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight Champion told Yahoo Singapore.

He credits his wife for being his pillar of strength.

“I wanted to give up, but my wife told me to keep going. She has always been there for me and she kept telling me that I will make it and achieve my dream of getting to UFC one day,” the 30-year-old Brazilian recalled.

Dos Anjos was in Singapore last week with his wife and two sons to to train with team-mates on the Evolve Fight Team, as well as give a mixed martial arts (MMA) seminar at Evolve MMA with ONE Championship Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki.

Dos Anjos met his wife Cristiane on an MMA show that he fought in, at the age of 22 back in 2007.

“She was working on the show and I made the first move… I went to talk to her.”

At that time, Dos Anjos was not earning much so his wife supported the house with her salary, paying rent and putting food on the table.

“I fight for my family – that’s my biggest motivation,” he added.

Dos Anjos however, is not particularly keen on having his sons follow in his footsteps.

“I want Gustavo and Rafael to have an easier life than I did. I give them the best I can now and I want them to have the best opportunity.

“The life I led is not a life I want for them. I didn’t have much opportunities and martial arts was my only choice – it was what I love doing and I live for fights.

“However, if they want to pursue this career, I will support them.”


FIghting spirit from young

From a young age, Dos Anjos had to fight for what he believed in. He recalls one incident form his childhood that sealed this conviction:

“I was only 10 and I was at Copacabana beach with my father. It was Easter time and a big truck drove by, throwing out free chocolates to all the children. After it left, there was one chocolate left unclaimed in a corner.

“I went to pick it up and just as I did, this group of homeless kids came over and demanded I hand it over to them. I didn’t want to so they started fighting with me.

“I won and took the chocolate and my father was proud of me for standing up for myself. It’s not about the chocolate, but about the principle behind it.”

Rough childhood

Dos Anjos started learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) at the age of eight in school but had no money to pay the fees so he had to stop.

He searched his neighbourhood of Niteroi in Brazil – a rough and poor area – thoroughly for a place to train at but money was always an issue.

Without a computer at home, Dos Anjos’ only option was to rent a VHS tape of Rickson Gracie’s Vale Tudo Japan 1994 fights from a video rental store.

“That was my favourite tape, where Gracie won three fights in one night. I would rent it every weekend and keep watching it over and over again,” he said.

“I rented it so often that the store owner offered to sell it to me for about US$10. Hence, I saved all my lunch money for two months and shared my friend’s lunch before I could finally buy it.”

Once he bought it, he invited his friends from the streets to his house every day after school to learn and practise fighting moves from the tape.

Unfortunately, his mother came home early from work one day and caught them fighting. In her anger, she broke the tape – and Dos Anjos’ heart.

Finally at the age of 12 he went to a public school that offered Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira and BJJ as part of physical education.

That was where Dos Anjos brushed up his skills and engaged several friendly matches.

Knowing that was the path he wanted, he went on to get his black belt in BJJ and
began his professional MMA career in 2004 where he fought for various promotions in Brazil before he made his UFC debut in 2008.

He joined Evolve MMA in 2009 and trained with muay thai world champions there – a move which improved his stand up game significantly.

Titanium-fused jaw

With a record of 24-7 today, Dos Anjos suffered a broken jaw in 2010 against Clay Guida. At that point, he worried he might not get the chance to fight again.

After two surgeries, he has a titanium-fused jaw and he wasted no time in jumping right back into action.

He also braved an MCL injury when he took the Lightweight championship title fight against Anthony Pettis on 15 March this year.

“The lightweight category is so competitive. I waited a long time for that title shot and if I lose it, I don’t know when I will get it again. I injured my knee but I prayed to God to keep me safe and gave it all I got.

“Now that I have the belt I want to keep it for a long time. I got the chance I wanted and I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.”

First establishing herself in the world of cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a keen photojournalist who is equally enthusiastic about fitness and sports. She is also looking for the fittest in Singapore.More of her at CherylTay.sg and on FacebookTwitter and Instagram (cheryltaysg).