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Junior dos Santos responds to Ben Rothwell: ‘If you want to be the champion, you can't pick opponents'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After his loss to Junior dos Santos at UFC Fight Night 86, Ben Rothwell lamented that the fight was a "strategically stupid" one for him to have accepted, considering how close Rothwell was to a UFC heavyweight title shot and the fact that dos Santos was coming off a loss.

Dos Santos, though, disagrees with that idea.

"If you're winning, you have to fight with anyone," the former UFC heavyweight champion said Monday on The MMA Hour. "If you want to be the champion, you can't pick opponents. So if he would like to be the champion, at some point he should fight against me or all the other guys. It's part of the thing to be champion."

Dos Santos, 32, dialed back the clock to score a vintage win over Rothwell at UFC Fight Night 86, halting the American's four-fight hot streak with a masterful performance that evoked memories of dos Santos' time as UFC heavyweight champion. Afterward, Rothwell hinted on The MMA Hour that he fought injured and said it was a bad choice for him to have agreed to the bout in the first place, based on the rankings and momentum of the two heavyweights at the time of the booking.

When asked about the rest of Rothwell's statements, dos Santos said only that Rothwell failed to "find himself" in the fight and suggested it may have been because dos Santos was "too fast" for Rothwell to figure out his rhythm.

Either way, the win propelled the reinvigorated dos Santos back into a crowded title picture, and dos Santos knows gold could be closer than expected given the recent upheaval in the UFC heavyweight division.

"The belt is always my goal, my biggest goal," dos Santos said. "I don't care about anything that's happening with all the guys. Sometimes I try to be a little more aggressive with my words, but I don't know how to do that. My main objective in UFC is to become the champion again. I know that I can do that, and I will do that, so if Dana White wants to give me a gift, give me the title shot."

As it stands, Dos Santos is the only man in the UFC top-10 rankings to hold a win over new heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, who dethroned Fabricio Werdum with a blistering one-punch knockout at UFC 198.

Dos Santos expects to spend the next 12 weeks rehabilitating a partial tear in his left bicep, but then he hopes to jump back in pursuit of the belt, potentially on the Nov. 12 card for the UFC's big debut in New York.

"Right now I'm not sure about it," dos Santos said. "I don't know what's going to happen with the division. We are talking about (Alistair) Overeem and Miocic for the title shot, but we have to remember that (Cain) Velasquez is fighting now against Travis Browne at UFC 200. If Velasquez wins, maybe the UFC will give him the shot? You never know. But let's see.

"I'm not sure about who is going to be my next opponent, and I really don't care about it. Any one of them is going to be okay for me. I think at the end of July I'm going to be able to be training again, so I need two or three months to get prepared for a fight. I was thinking about fighting in New York (at UFC 205). It would be amazing for me to fight there, and it's exactly the time that I need to be 100-percent again."