Khabib Nurmagomedov or Kamaru Usman? Rafael dos Anjos, who fought both, has his answer

LAS VEGAS — The second time Rafael dos Anjos got ready to fight Rafael Fiziev it was much simpler for the former UFC lightweight champion.

Visa issues delayed a potential fight between them, and then a positive COVID-19 result from Fiziev forced the cancellation of another. But Dos Anjos spent an entire training camp and wasn’t particularly interested in wasting it.

That’s how he finished fighting at UFC 272 on March 6 in Las Vegas. At one point, he was going to fight at 170. At another, at 165. And finally, it turned out to be at 160 pounds against Renato Moicano.

“I feel a lot less pressure right now than I did back then,” said dos Anjos, who is a +170 underdog on Fiziev for the UFC Vegas 59 main event Saturday at Apex on the UFC campus. “There was a lot going on in my life during the week of the fight, changing opponents, changing weight divisions, going from 165 pounds to 170 pounds to 160 pounds. It was kind of crazy during race week.

“This time everything is going smoothly. I’m focused on getting down to 155kg and I know I have a definite opponent. Back in the last race, I was selling my place and moving to Brazil. I had a lot going on in my personal life. Now, I’ve taken a fight out of the way and shaken off the cobwebs a bit, and things are going really well.”

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05: Rafael Dos Anjos during his fight against Renato Moicano at T-Mobile Arena for UFC 272 on March 5, 2022 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.  (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rafael dos Anjos says he is ready for his UFC fight on Saturday. (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Even for a veteran like dos Anjos, who is 31-13 overall in MMA and 20-11 in the UFC, that 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 a lot better than I was 10 years ago, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I’m much, much better. Over the years, I’ve learned to train smarter, take better care of my body, and manage my weight better. I watch what I put in my body now and I don’t take my diet out. I live that lifestyle 24/7 now because, frankly, you have to if you want to stay relevant and competitive.”

Dos Anjos’ resume is as deep and impressive as it gets, and he’s fought the biggest names in his weight class for the past 14 years. His 20 UFC wins are tied for sixth in company history and his 31 fights are tied for eighth. He is second only to Frankie Edgar in total cage time and is tied for second with 12 decision wins.

He is also fifth in major touchdowns, sixth in control time and 10th in top control time.

This is against some of the best fighters the UFC has produced. He has fought Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kamaru Usman, the last two men recognized by the UFC as the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Counting interim titles, he has faced eight men who have held a UFC championship, defeating 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’s the only fighter to have faced 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 because 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 pretty much didn’t train any wrestling for this fight. I had no fights, no struggles, none of that. It was more legs and knees and sparring and stuff like that.

“For Usman, I actually trained a lot in wrestling and still he took me down. He was still checking me out. It was a five-round fight and I feel Usman brought tougher competition for me.”

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