Rafael dos Anjos was once reigning the UFC’s lightweight division following his dominant performance over then champion, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis at UFC 185. The dominance displayed on that night followed by the dispatching of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone nine months later gave the impression that the longtime UFC fighter was here to stay. Sadly, that was not the case, but now RDA is comfortably making the welterweight limit as he has set his sights on inching closer to the 170 lb UFC championship.
Dos Anjos’ admitted that he passed out during his weight cut prior to fighting Eddie Alvarez last July. To make things worse, dos Anjos was TKO’d by Alvarez and lost his title and the opportunity to score a payday against Conor McGregor. Dos Anjos entered the fight as the favorite and following early success in the bout, it looked like he was in control until he got caught and failed to recover. The weight cut wasn’t getting any easier at the age of 32, which urged the former Kings MMA product to move up a weight class following a decision loss against Tony Ferguson last November.
Dos Anjos, already considered a small lightweight in terms of height and reach is attempting to pull off an impressive feat should he reach title contention. His first test at welterweight came against a top level striker with a visible size advantage in Tarec Saffiedine. The fight was competitive off the bat as the dos Anjos was taken down, but able to answer with one of his own. The usual game plan of pressuring his opponent and using heavy output that included body punches and kicks to chop his opponent down was on display through the course of fifteen minutes. The performance might not have been what we’ve been accustomed to seeing in dos Anjos’ wins at lightweight, but it was a win nonetheless. Last month’s successful welterweight debut put the Brazilian born martial artist at the #10 slot in the UFC’s rankings. Dos Anjos’ made it clear he wants to slowly work his way up to a title shot and won’t be rushing to the top, which begs the question of who is next.
Colby Convington has been asking for dos Anjos’ head since he publicly revealed his intention of moving to the 170 lb division. The heavy wrestling base of Covington would present immediate danger to RDA, which could lead to a not so exciting fight on paper. Because of this, there could be a potential of dos Anjos facing this Sunday’s headliner, Gunnar Nelson if he is victorious over the number 14 ranked Santiago Ponzinibbio. Nelson possess a karate style stand up game, which is perfect for someone like dos Anjos who presents immediate pressure muay thai. Both men are also high level Brazilian jiu jitsu athletes, but it’d be hard not to give the advantage to dos Anjos. Nelson’s teammate, Conor McGregor was quite the thorn in RDA’s side when they were initially set to fight at UFC 196. Since he missed out on the McGregor sweepstakes, dos Anjos can still hand Team SBG a loss in a bout against Nelson.
Another option could potentially be former champ, Robbie Lawler should he get past Cerrone at UFC 214. Lawler is coming off a year long layoff while Cerrone was TKO’d in his last outing against Jorge Masvidal in January. Cerrone is entering the bout with minor injuries as if the odds weren’t already against him. If you take a look at someone who’s been uncharacteristically quiet in activity, you’d find Neil Magny.
Magny’s last performance was a decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 207 last December. He fought five times in 2015 and three times in 2016, but has yet to compete this year. Despite being called out by the likes of Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington, he doesn’t appear interested in either fighter and in a post last month stated that he has yet to be cleared to compete. Currently ranked fifth, he is likely awaiting an opponent above him in the rankings, but with everyone above him booked or soon to be booked, it would make sense for him to fight a former champion even though he is below him in the rankings. The fight would be an intriguing one on paper given that Magny is 6’3” while dos Anjos is 5’9.” Both men enjoy keeping the fight standing and it would be reminiscent to Benson Henderson taking on Brandon Thatch a few years back.
Other options for RDA include, Kamaru Usman or Ryan LaFlare. Honestly speaking, they won’t do much for his progress, but they could certainly test him. A potential dark horse could be Carlos Condit who is still ranked sixth despite teasing retirement after his loss against Demian Maia last August. No matter who is next, all eyes will be on dos Anjos as he follows the path his former adversary, Anthony Pettis pleaded other fighters to do in his UFC 213 post fight speech, fight in his proper weight class.