Rafael dos Anjos expected that Conor McGregor would eventually taste defeat inside the UFC Octagon, but even he was surprised by what unfolded on Saturday, when his hand-picked replacement Nate Diaz lit the McGregor caravan ablaze and submitted the UFC featherweight champion with a stunning second-round rear-naked choke at UFC 196.
"Honestly, to tell you the truth, I thought [McGregor] would win," dos Anjos admitted Monday on The MMA Hour. "He did his best because he had a lot of guys offer to fight him; Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, guys in shape, guys in fight camps. So he picked Nate Diaz, who wasn't training for sure. Like [Diaz] said, he didn't spar once for this fight. And he submitted him. So [McGregor] picked the easiest one on his mind, that's why I thought he was going to win.
"But Nate Diaz is a tough opponent. I've fought him. He's a really hard guy to finish, has a lot of heart, but he's different than Conor. Conor did not show a lot of heart. He's a lion when he's punching somebody, but when he's getting punched, he becomes a cat. A little cat. When he's punching somebody, he's a lion. But when people punch him, he becomes a cat."
The fight was one to watch for dos Anjos, as the UFC's reigning lightweight champion was the man originally selected to be McGregor's opponent at UFC 196 before a broken foot suffered two weeks' out from fight night led to his withdrawal, spoiling McGregor's attempt at making history by becoming the first UFC fighter to hold two titles simultaneously.
Instead, McGregor fought a welterweight showcase against Diaz, and dos Anjos watched a downfall that he knew would eventually arrive, even if he didn't expect it to happen so soon.
"For me, I don't care [about] anybody's loss," dos Anjos said. "I think it's a loser's mentality to get happy with somebody losing. I don't think like that, because one day I'm going to be there, on the Octagon, stepping there. So I don't want anybody cheering for me to lose. I don't want to be in that position. But I think everybody got what they deserve. Conor got what he deserved, and God makes everything perfect. Conor, he claimed to be God, and God made everything perfect. God showed him, the world, who he really is."
After the fight, McGregor was respectful in defeat to Diaz, although the same did not apply to his other rivals, many of whom were publicly celebrating McGregor's first UFC loss on social media.
In a message posted on his Instagram account, McGregor referred to both Jose Aldo and dos Anjos as "a p***y," writing that, "when the history books are written, I showed up. You showed up on Twitter." McGregor was also unapologetic about his attempt to chase history and fight up several weight classes, though dos Anjos isn't buying it.
"This guy, I think, everything he talked, he paid in the Octagon," dos Anjos said. "He just got exposed, and everything he talked, when the Octagon locked, everybody saw the truth. I think everybody saw the truth last Saturday and he got submitted. Even Holly Holm, she went to sleep without tapping. He tapped. Bro, how are you going to tap on the neck, on the choke? Go to sleep, man. Be a man. Holly Holm showed more heart than him.
"A lot of people say, ‘ah, Conor went up two weight divisions.' No. Nate Diaz, he's a 155-pound fighter. He's a lightweight," dos Anjos added. "And [McGregor] is saying that, ‘I went up two weight divisions.' No, he did not fight Robbie Lawler. He did not fight Johny Hendricks. He fought Nate Diaz, which is 155. ... I just think Conor doesn't deserve to fight for this, for the 155 belt. He just got smashed by the No. 5 ranked (fighter)."
For now, dos Anjos is simply content to see the McGregor chapter of his career come to a close, even if he wasn't the one to personally slam the book shut. Once he's healthy, dos Anjos has plenty of viable challengers waiting in the wings for his lightweight belt. McGregor, meanwhile, is likely to return to 145, although dos Anjos believes the featherweight belt could be changing hands sooner than some expected.
"Frankie (Edgar) would kill him," dos Anjos said. "It's a different level. It's just a different level. I think against Aldo, he got lucky. He caught Aldo with a punch. But other than that, who has he fought? He fought Chad Mendes with a 10-day notice and Chad Mendes gassed out, but he gave him a hard time. It's all talk, man. It's all hype."