When Rafael dos Anjos made the decision to return to the lightweight division, it was with only one thought in mind: becoming UFC champion again.
Technically, the 155-pound title currently sits vacant. But Charles Oliveira is considered the uncrowned champion after tearing through Michael Chandler, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje in consecutive fights. A half-pound weight miss in his previous outing against Gaethje ultimately cost him the title.
Dos Anjos certainly considers Oliveira the best of the best at lightweight right now, even if he still sees flaws in the champ’s game.
“He’s on his moment,” dos Anjos told MMA Fighting. “Fighters, it’s all about the mentality. [Charles Oliveira has] got his mental [attitude] on point, and he’s very confident, but we all know he has been knocked out in his fights, and he quit a couple of times. But he’s on his moment right now. He’s very confident. He’s on a good win streak.”
Toughness is perhaps Oliveira’s biggest weapon these days. He’s able to survive fire-fights against knockout artists and then make them pay once the fight turns into a grappling exchange.
Oliveira was knocked down twice in his fight against Gaethje, but Gaethje refused to engage on the ground. That eventually cost him after Oliveira ended up on the mat and wrapped up a rear-naked choke in the first round.
As much as fighters have avoided grappling with Oliveira at all costs, dos Anjos invites the opportunity to test his Brazilian jiu-jitsu against “Do Bronx.”
“I think guys knock him down, and they run away from his guard,” dos Anjos said. “I’m going to take the opportunity to be in his guard and punish him from the top. I think that would make a huge difference. These guys they knock him down, but they don’t capitalize on it.
“If you see when he took [Dustin] Poirier down, [Poirier] just grabbed him and tried to eat the time. It looked like he was desperate while he was on bottom. I play well on the bottom. I’m a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and I know how to control the wrist and how to be calm on the bottom. With [Justin] Gaethje, he gave the back right away, and once you get in the scrambles and these guys give their back right away, that’s how Charles is good.”
While he doesn’t take anything way from Oliveira’s prowess, dos Anjos knows it would be a much different story if he was caught in those same grappling exchanges.
“He’s very good to take the back and submit people from the back,” dos Anjos explained. “I fought great guys that take backs very well, and they never took my back. I fought Michael Chiesa, Kevin Lee, even [Renato] Moicano, [and] they got close, but I know how to defend myself.
“These guys, they kind of get desperate and they give their back right away and that’s when you get choked.”
Before he can get to Oliveira and the UFC title, dos Anjos first has to go through Fiziev, who has won his last five fights in a row, including a spectacular spinning wheel-kick knockout over Brad Riddell is his most recent outing.
Dos Anjos understands the danger in looking ahead too far without concentrating on what’s in front of him. But with designs on a title fight in the near future, he expects this to be the last time he’s facing someone behind him in the rankings.
“Charles has what everybody wants,” dos Anjos said. “That’s the reason I moved back to Brazil, to train, to provide, to win a belt again. But my focus is 100 percent on Fiziev right now. I’m sure I’m going to pass him and the fight’s not going to last long, the way that I’m training, the way that I’m feeling. I’m going to pass Fiziev, I’m going to finish him, I can tell you that. After that, I don’t see any other fight. I’m going to sit down and I’m not going to be fighting these [up and coming] guys.
“That’s the main point that I want to show in this fight against Fiziev. Not taking him for granted, he’s tough but I don’t want to be fighting these up and coming guys. I’m a high level fighter. I’m a championship fighter. I’m going to show that July 9 and I’m going to sit down and I’m going to wait to see how everything is going to play out. I want to fight for the title by the end of the year.”
Dos Anjos isn’t anticipating an easy fight with Fiziev by any means. But he knows this will be his opponent’s first UFC main event against a proven veteran with five rounds to work.
Of course, dos Anjos respects Fiziev’s tremendous power and the flashy moves that have brought a fast rise in the ranks, but he promises to give the Kyrgyzstan native a rude welcome against an elite top-ranked lightweight.
“He can do [the flashy moves] with other guys, but I’ll show him otherwise on July 9,” dos Anjos said. “I’m not here to play around. I refuse to lose. I can’t lose. I’m going to bring everything I’ve got. I will finish him. I’m going to bring everything I’ve got. But a highlight reel performance will put me in a better position for my call out.
“I’m in the position where I refuse to lose. I refuse to lose. I was having a comfortable life in California but I wasn’t happy so I moved back to Brazil. I’m going to Nova Uniao, I’m going to the favella to train. I brought my family to Brazil, my kids, so I’m not playing around. At 37 years old, I’m not playing around. I have the same champion mentality. I want to be champion again. That’s going to happen. I have no doubt about it.”