Even though UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos just smoked Donald Cerrone in his first title defense, and has won five fights in a row, Las Vegas has installed him as an underdog for his next bout. That’s because he’s facing the current 145-pound champion, the "Notorious" Conor McGregor, who at this point is bending public perception to believe anything he says.
McGregor will challenge Dos Anjos at UFC 196 on March 5 in Las Vegas, trying to become the promotion’s first two-division champion. So far McGregor has gone 7-0 in the UFC, scoring the interim featherweight title against Chad Mendes at UFC 189, and then unifying the belts with his 13-second knockout of longtime champion Jose Aldo at UFC 194.
Now he gets ready to make history against the Brazilian Dos Anjos, who has won 10 of 11 fights overall. And the 31-year-old Dos Anjos has a message for the Irishman.
"He’s not going to make history over me," Dos Anjos said in an interview on The MMA Hour on Monday.
Dos Anjos spoke at length about his upcoming title defense against McGregor, who taunted him in the first official press conference in January. During that media appearance, McGregor came at Dos Anjos’ family, called him a traitor to Brazil, and called his training partners at Kings MMA a bunch of "bums."
Dos Anjos coolly withstood the barrage of insults, no matter how personal they got. Just a couple of weeks later, he shed some light on how he’s thinking of what will become the biggest fight of his career. And one thing that Dos Anjos made clear is that he doesn’t see McGregor as anything special.
"For me, it’s a normal fight," he told Ariel Helwani. "I feel focused, very in shape. Of course, it’s been different because it’s a big fight. I think it’s not the biggest opponent, not the toughest opponent, but it’s the biggest fight of my career because this guy, the way that he’s been talking, he’s been getting a lot of fans. He’s been very popular. But I’ve faced better guys before, stronger guys, better guys. And I think this is just going to be one more fight."
Asked who he considered tough to McGregor, whose last professional loss came in 2010 against Joseph Duffy, Dos Anjos pointed out some recent bouts.
"Man, Ben Henderson, Donald Cerrone…these guys are a different level man," he said. "They are stronger, they are faster, they are taller than this guy. I didn’t have a chance to say it to Dana White at the press conference because that guy he didn’t let me speak. But I want to thank Dana White and Lorenzo for finally giving me an easy fight. Finally, I always have tough fights against beasts. And finally, I have an easy fight."
Earlier on Monday’s broadcast of The MMA Hour, lightweight contender Eddie Alvarez suggested that Dos Anjos should cater to his own strengths, take McGregor out of his comfort zone and do work on the ground. Alvarez said the blueprint was out there on how to beat McGregor, if Dos Anjos would but follow it.
Yet Dos Anjos (25-7) said he doesn’t feel he’s weaker than McGregor in any specific area.
"Man, I don’t agree — I think I can beat this guy anywhere," he said. "I think if I fight a jiu-jitsu match with him, I’ll beat him. If I fight a karate match with him, I’ll beat him. If I fight a K-1 rules with him, I’d beat him. I think I can beat him anywhere. I’m going to do my job, I’m going to do whatever I’ve been doing with my fights. I’m going to break his mind standing. He’s going to feel very bad after getting hit hard several times, and then maybe, if I feel I want, I will take him down and smash him a little bit on the ground.
"But I’m not going into this fight like, ‘oh, I’m not going to stand with Conor,’ because I think he doesn’t bring anything different to me, you know? I think I’m a better fighter everywhere than him."
Yet even if he’s been dismissive towards McGregor’s talk so far, Dos Anjos said he respects McGregor as a general talent in the cage.
"Yeah, man, McGregor]’s a good fighter, I’m not saying he’s not a good fighter," he said. "He’s a good fighter. I just think I’m on a different level. He has a good counter, he has a good straight left, so I need to watch it. But it’s not anything that I haven’t seen before. I fought Nate Diaz. Nate Diaz is a better boxer than him. Longer, very, very difficult to fight against Nate Diaz, a very tough opponent. Cerrone, he’s a very good Muay Thai guy, very long. Man, I’ve fought better guys before, you know?"
Dos Anjos, who trains at Kings MMA with current heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum — another of McGregor’s recent targets — and Lyoto Machida, has gone on record saying he wouldn’t mind dragging the fight out and punishing McGregor a bit.
On Monday, he said he still wants to do that. Mostly.
"I will see," he said. "If I have an opportunity to finish, I will finish, but I will feel him first. I want to hit him first a couple of times. I want him to feel my power, you know, because his thing is always having such a good time in the Octagon. Everything that he’s predicting has been happening, but I think this time his crystal ball is a little blurry. I think he’s not seeing well, and he’s going to feel the difference. I’m going to show him the bad part of the Octagon. I went through the good part and the bad part, but now I’m going to introduce him to the bad part."
His official prediction for March 5?
"My prediction is, I’m going to win for sure," he said. "I don’t see how this guy can beat me. But, a prediction — this fight will not be five rounds. It’s going to be maybe three or two rounds. This guy, he’s not going to be able handle me for more than two rounds. He’s going to break. He’s going to break like a girl."