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Rafael dos Anjos: Donald Cerrone next in line for title with win at UFC 187

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

With Khabib Nurmagomedov again sidelined with a knee injury, who’s next for UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos?

dos Anjos was expected to defend his 155-pound championship belt against the winner of Nurmagomedov vs. Donald Cerrone, slated for UFC 187 on May 23, but sees the new match-up between Cerrone and John Makdessi as a title eliminator for "Cowboy" only.

"That was a key fight for the division, a number one contender fight, and I was anxious to watch it. I feel bad for Khabib because he hurt his knee again after being sidelined for a year," dos Anjos told "I believe Cerrone will win, but if he loses, it is going to shuffle the entire division."

At No. 3 in the lightweight rankings, Cerrone is 7-0 with four finishes since his last loss, a unanimous decision to dos Anjos, while Makdessi isn’t even ranked at the top 15.

"Cerrone is a veteran, is coming off seven wins," dos Anjos said. "He could have just stepped aside and fought for the title already, but he wants to stay active. He has nothing to gain with this fight, he could just wait for the title fight if he wanted.

"Makdessi is tough, but he’s not ranked. This is the opportunity of his life. If he beats Cerrone, he will be in a good position in the division. Cerrone has all the responsibility in this fight."

But what if Makdessi upsets Cerrone at UFC 187? Should he earn the next shot at the 155-pound gold?

"No way he’s next, he’s not even ranked," dos Anjos responded. "A win would put him in the mix. There are other guys in a better position right now. Ben Henderson is coming off a win, and in my opinion he won the fight against Cerrone. We also have Michael Johnson, too.

"There are a lot of guys, but most of them have fights lined up already," he continued. "Ben Henderson vs. Michael Johnson could be a number one contender fight too, who knows? (Gilbert) Melendez will fight Eddie Alvarez, but he has three UFC fights and had two title shots already, so I don’t think he deserves another one."

dos Anjos is currently recovering from a knee injury and nose surgery, and eyes a late fall return for his first title defense.

"After I return to training at 100 percent, I need 16 weeks to be ready," he said. "I believe I will be able to fight in late October, early November. I won’t start training for my first title defense if I’m not 100 percent. I did this a lot last year, fought a lot, but I can’t come back if I’m injured."

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