LAS VEGAS — The second time Rafael dos Anjos prepared to fight Rafael Fiziev was a lot easier for the former UFC lightweight champion.
Visa issues delayed a potential fight between them, then a positive COVID-19 result by Fiziev forced the cancellation of another. But dos Anjos prepared an entire training camp and was not really interested in wasting it.
So, on March 6, he ended up in Las Vegas at UFC 272. At one point, he would fight at 170. At another, 165. And in the end, it turned out to be a 160-pound catchweight against Renato Moicano.
“I feel a lot less pressure now than I did then,” said dos Anjos, who is a +170 underdog to Fiziev for the UFC Vegas 59 main event Saturday at Apex on the UFC campus. “There were too many things going on with my life during fight week, with the change of opponents, the change of weight distribution, from 165lbs to 170lbs to 160lbs. It was a little crazy during fight week.
“Everything is going smoothly this time. I am focused on reducing the weight to 155 pounds and I know I have a solid opponent. In the last fight I sold my house and moved to Brazil. I have been through a lot in my personal life. Now I’ve avoided a fight and shook off the cobwebs a little bit, and it’s going really well.
Even for a veteran like dos Anjos, who is 31-13 in MMA and 20-11 in the UFC, so much change and uncertainty can be overwhelming.
Dos Anjos made his UFC debut in 2008 at UFC 91, a third-round knockout loss to Jeremy Stephens. The sport has grown by leaps and bounds since then and the competition is much better.
He said there is no comparison in the level of competition between now and then and used himself as an example.
“I’m much better than I was ten years ago, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. ‘I am much, much better. Over the years I’ve learned to train smarter, take better care of my body and better regulate my weight. I’m careful about what I put in my body right now and I’m not getting off my diet. I now live this lifestyle 24/7 because honestly you have to if you want to stay relevant and competitive.”
Dos Anjos’ resume is as deep and impressive as it gets, and he has competed against the biggest names in his weight classes for the past 14 years. His 20 wins in the UFC rank sixth in company history and his 31 fights rank eighth. He is second to Frankie Edgar in total cage time and is tied for second with 12 decision wins.
He is also fifth in significant strikes, sixth in control time and 10th in top control time.
That’s against some of the best fighters the UFC has produced. He has fought against both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kamaru Usman, the last two men recognized by the UFC as the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
If he counts interim titles, he faced eight men who have held a UFC championship, beating Robbie Lawler, Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson and losing to Nurmagomedov, Usman, Colby Covington, Tony Ferguson and Eddie Alvarez. He also has wins over Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone, Paul Felder, Kevin Lee and Neil Magny.
He is the only fighter to have met both Nurmagomedov and Usman, and didn’t hesitate when asked who he thought was the better of the two.
“Oh, certainly Usman,” he said. “I can tell you that 12 weeks before my fight with Khabib I was training in the cage and my ear got stuck in the cage. I split my ear. It took 14 stitches to close it and I almost lost my ear. So I trained pretty much no wrestling for that fight. I had no scrambles, no grappling, none of that. It was more feet and knees and sparring and things like that.
“Before Usman I trained a lot of wrestling and he still knocked me down. He still controlled me. It was a five round fight and I feel like Usman has brought more competition to me.”