Rafael dos Anjos wants to add a second UFC belt to his resume, and his first step towards the welterweight gold is already set.
Dos Anjos will make his 170-pound debut inside the Octagon against former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine at the UFC Fight Night 111 card in Kallang, Singapore on June 17, and that’s exactly the type of opponent he was hoping for.
"I think Tarec Saffiedine is a great opponent for my first fight at welterweight,” dos Anjos told MMA Fighting. "That’s exactly what I wanted, a top-10 (ranked fighter). I’m a former lightweight champion and I believe I deserved to fight someone ranked, and Tarec is also a former world champion, a former Strikeforce champion. It’s going to be a great fight.”
Dos Anjos decided to move up to welterweight after having trouble making 155 pounds. Even though he never missed weight in 21 fights inside the Octagon, the Brazilian said that his body struggled with the weight cut as of late.
Saffiedine, who joined the UFC as Strikeforce’s last welterweight champion in 2014, has suffered many injuries during his UFC run, and enters the bout coming off decision losses to Rick Story and Dong Hyun Kim.
"There’s no easy path (to win this fight), especially at the highest level, but I will use all my game,” dos Anjos said. "I think that something I haven't used much in my fights is my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, but I’m a complete fighter. But I will trade with him, and if he gives me opportunities there, I will use my game. I’ll walk forward the entire time, like I always do. I think I’ll be stronger in this division, won’t suffer with that violent weight cut. I think I will perform better in this weight class.”
The Brazilian fighter will have a small reach advantage over Saffiedine in his welterweight debut, even though his opponent is a bit taller than him.
"I don’t think I’ll have any problem,” dos Anjos said. "They are stronger, but I will be stronger, too. They are taller than me, but even at lightweight some athletes were taller than me. But I fight well against tall guys.
"I didn’t leave my division to go after easier fights. I left the division because I had already reached the top, became champion, and health is the top priority. Some fighters leave their divisions or cut down in weight to go after easier fights, but I left the division for my health because my body reached its limit."
After leaving Kings MMA in 2016, dos Anjos has changed a few things in his training routine. Now that he’s set to face 170-pounders, RDA is also using every opportunity he can find to spar with bigger fighters, including UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
"I have been sparring with bigger guys, trained a few times with Michael Bisping and the guys Bisping takes to the gym,” dos Anjos said. "Eduardo Pamplona is my Muay Thai coach now, a good friend and also one of the guys that helped me when I moved to the United States. He cornered me in my first two or three fights and then moved to Mexico, but he’s back now and will be in my corner in this fight. He used to fight at 185 and 170, and he’s tough. He’s helping me with my Muay Thai, and I’m trying to train with bigger guys now."
Saffiedine has fought some of the best welterweights throughout his MMA career, including current UFC titleholder Tyron Woodley, and that’s one of the reasons why the Niteroi-native expects a win over Saffiedine to put him among the best of the division right away.
"I believe that a win would put me in the top 10,” dos Anjos said. "When you fight the champion and win, you become the champion. If you beat the No. 10 (ranked fighter), you become the No. 10. I think (the win) puts me in this mix, and that’s my goal.”
"No rush, but my goal is the welterweight belt,” he continued. "I think I have what it takes to get there. But I’ll do at welterweight what I did at lightweight, no rush. I’ll slowly get there. I have the qualities to get there. But a win over Tarec Saffiedine will definitely put me in this mix."
Dos Anjos’ initial plan was to fight at Rio de Janeiro’s UFC 212 on June 3, but he made clear from the beginning that he would enjoy competing in Singapore. In fact, dos Anjos will do the final part of his training camp for his 22nd UFC bout in Singapore.
"My first goal was to fight in Rio, and I even campaigned for this on social media, but it’s a big card with big names and everybody wants to be there,” dos Anjos said. “I also have a big market in Singapore and the UFC knows that. It's a business. Every time I’m in Asia, I train at Evolve. I’ve done training camps there before. I’ve gone to Evolve for seven years now.
"Evolve is my home in Asia and I have great friends there. I wanted to fight in Rio, but I’m happy that I’m fighting in Singapore. I love Singapore, I love team Evolve, and I have great training there. It will be great to be back in Singapore. I will have other opportunities to fight in Rio."