The first time Brazil’s Rafael Dos Anjos was booked to go five rounds with Rafael Fiziev, the bout didn’t happen, as Fiziev was forced out of the February pairing as a result of testing positive for COVID.
Rather than wait for his opponent to get healthy, the former lightweight champion opted to put his training camp to good use by facing his countryman Renato Moicano in a short-notice, five-round pairing at UFC 272 a couple weeks later. Dos Anjos collected a unanimous decision victory, giving him consecutive victories over quality competition since returning to the division he once ruled.
And this weekend, he and Fiziev will finally share the Octagon together.
“I just wanted to get that one because before the Moicano fight, I was on a 16-month layoff, which is not common for me,” said Dos Anjos, explaining his reasons for seeking out a dance partner rather than simply waiting for Fiziev earlier this year. “Being injured — one very bad injury on my groin, and another on my meniscus — was a tough moment, and I was kind of carrying a lot of pressure into that fight.
“The pressure was on me; Moicano had nothing,” he added. “Whatever happens happens. It was like he said — he was at the pool, he got a call, and he’s going to make some money. For me, there was a lot on the line. “
Dos Anjos’ return to the lightweight division in 2020 came with a number of question marks, with more added following his first fight back.
After a strong start to his welterweight sojourn, Dos Anjos exited the division having lost four of his last five bouts, including dropping consecutive unanimous decisions to Leon Edwards and Michael Chiesa. Back at lightweight for the first time in four years, he was originally scheduled to face Islam Makhachev, but instead squared off with Paul Felder, with the Philadelphian filling in for the streaking Russian when he was forced out of the pairing.
Rafael Dos Anjos | Top Moments
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Rafael Dos Anjos | Top Moments
The Brazilian won a decision, but short notice wins never carry as much weight and value in the eyes of the public as similar efforts against opponents that have been gearing up to fight you for a while. While Dos Anjos was on the sidelines, things in the division continued chugging along, with new names climbing the ranks and establishing themselves as contenders, while familiar faces showed they still had a little something left in the tank as well.
Getting back into the Octagon in March and adding a good win over a game and talented Moicano not only allowed the former lightweight champion to shake off the rust that had accumulated during his extended stay on the sidelines, but also served as a reminder that despite being a little older, he’s still someone deserving of mention in the title conversation, which is why he happily signed on to face Fiziev this weekend.
“I understand because I was on a big layoff, but that’s why I’m taking this fight,” he said when asked about currently being excluded from discussions focused on the top of the division. “I want to bring my ‘A’ game against Fiziev and show people why I should be in the title conversation.
“When I beat Fiziev, it will be three-in-a-row. I want to beat him convincingly, I want to finish him, and I want people to talk about me putting myself in the title picture. That’s my goal and I’m looking forward to going there and finishing him in the first round. I’m going to put on a great performance and call my shot.”
Dos Anjos believes this weekend’s main event will come down to experience — both in terms of the level of competition each man has fought, and the number of rounds each has logged inside the Octagon.
While Fiziev has looked impressive over his last five outings, earning bonuses in four straight heading into Saturday night’s headlining turn, the 37-year-old Brazilian feels that his opponent is in for a surprise when he crosses the threshold into the UFC cage this weekend and takes part in his first five-round fight against a Top 15 foe.
“He’s a tough guy, a very technical fighter, but I think there are levels to this game, and he’s never fought anybody like me,” Dos Anjos said of Fiziev. “I fought many guys like him, even better.
“I have to be really careful with his standup game, but I’m looking to mix it up. It’s an MMA fight, so I’m gonna fight my fight. I’m not gonna let him breathe, I’m gonna stay on him. It’s a five-round fight, and I’m gonna test his will, his cardio. I’m gonna push him hard for five rounds.
“I think the experience will count in my favor.”
At a time when many with a number next to their name are being tactical and selective about whom they fight and when, Dos Anjos has vowed to take the opposite approach, both this weekend and going forward.
“I’m ahead of him in the rankings, and I promised myself I’m not going to be taking fights based on the rankings anymore,” he said. “Back in the day, everybody fought everybody, and I’ve got a feed my family. I’ve got to fight. I’ve got to stay active.
“I’m not gonna sit at home and wait for the perfect fight,” Dos Anjos added. “I think good things are gonna happen as long as I’m active and fighting, putting on great shows for the fans.
“Ten years ago, I moved to the United States with a dream of becoming UFC champion. I became UFC champion, and now I’m returning to Brazil with the same dream. I’m 37 years old, but I’m still on the hunt.”
And after the longest layoff of his career and a fight to get back into rhythm earlier this year, the former champion is confident that he’ll take down another talented foe this weekend.
“I’m had a rough time with injuries, but now I’m back 100 percent,” he said. “Once I beat Rafael Fiziev, it will be three wins in a row, and we’ll see what’s next.
“I’m not looking past him, but I know I’m going to beat him.”
UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs Fiziev, took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 9, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!