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Rafael dos Anjos bounced back after becoming a 'broken man’ in 2016, wants Tyron Woodley next

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Rafael dos Anjos dominated Robbie Lawler in Winnipeg.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Rafael dos Anjos started 2016 as the UFC lightweight champion, having successfully defended his belt with a 66-second win over Donald Cerrone, but everything changed that year.

dos Anjos saw a huge title fight with Conor McGregor slip through his fingers due to a broken foot. A few months later, he lost his belt to Eddie Alvarez, and lost one more against Tony Ferguson later that year. A year have passed, and he’s at the top once again.

The Brazilian veteran decided to move up to welterweight and scored a trio of impressive wins so far, capped off by last Saturday’s dominating win over Robbie Lawler — someone he always envisioned himself facing when both were UFC champions — at UFC on FOX 26 in Winnipeg.

"When I had the belt, when I defended it for the first time against Donald Cerrone, the fight with Lawler was in my mind already,” dos Anjos said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour.

"I was trying to make that fight happen because we were champions at the same time. But the Conor fight came up and I decided to (take) one more at lightweight. (…) My plan was to move up after the Cerrone fight. Today I look back and I feel that I had to lose those fights.”

“RDA" finished 2016 in a two-fight losing streak, and admits that he was “fighting under a lot of pressure” ahead of his welterweight debut versus Tarec Saffiedine.

"I was thinking about this move up, I had to win, but I always fight good under pressure,” he said. "Of course, I had my fears. I’m a man, I'm a human being, and I had my fears, but I trust in my work. I’ve been working hard with my team and my hard work is paying off."

"On this exactly day, a year ago, I was a broken man,” he said with a laugh. "I passed my Christmas as a broken man. I lost my belt, I lost the follow up, and here I am today, one year later, just beat a guy like Robbie Lawler. It’s just my faith. I know God has bigger plans for my life and I’m too strong and I have a lot in me.”

dos Anjos wasn’t promised a shot at welterweight champion Tyron Woodley next, but believes no one has done enough to be ahead of him right now.

"I beat the toughest guy of the division and the way that I did, I don’t see other guys (to fight) Woodley,” the Brazilian said. "I think I deserve to fight for the title. Now it’s my turn."

Woodley won’t fight anytime soon, though, as he went under the knife for a shoulder surgery. After a busy second half of 2017, dos Anjos doesn’t mind a break as well.

"I got three fights in six months,” he said. "I need time to recover my body. I’ve been in fight camp for six, seven months. I haven’t had time to really learn, to try to get better, I was just in fight camp. Now I need some time to really enjoy the process, get better."

The first Brazilian fighter to win the UFC lightweight championship, dos Anjos is confident that he will make history again in 2018.

"I’m on my way to being the first Brazilian two-division champion and the welterweight champion,” dos Anjos said. "I have no doubt that that’s gonna happen. It’s my time now."