Khabib Nurmagomedov or Kamaru Usman? Rafael dos Anjos, who fought both, has his answer

LAS VEGAS — The second time Rafael dos Anjos has prepared to fight Rafael Fiziev has been a lot simpler for the former UFC lightweight champion.

Visa issues delayed one potential fight between them, and then a positive COVID-19 result by Fiziev forced the cancellation of another. But dos Anjos has spent an entire training camp preparing and wasn’t particularly interested in wasting it.

So he wound up fighting at UFC 272 on March 6 in Las Vegas. At one point, he was going to fight at 170. At another, 165. And finally, it turned out to be at a catchweight of 160 pounds against Renato Moicano.

“I feel way less pressure right now than I was at that time,” said dos Anjos, who is a +170 underdog to Fiziev for the main event of UFC Vegas 59 Saturday at Apex on the UFC campus. “There were too many things going on with my life during fight week, with the change of opponents, the change of weight divisions, from 165 pounds to 170 pounds to 160 pounds. It was kind of crazy during fight week.

“This time, everything is going smoothly. I’m focused on cutting weight to 155 pounds and I know I have a set opponent. Back at the last fight, I was selling my place and moving to Brazil. I had a lot going on in my personal life. Now, I got one fight out of the way and I shook off the cobwebs a little bit, and things are going really well.”

Rafael dos Anjos says he’s ready for his UFC bout Saturday. (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Even for a veteran like dos Anjos, who is 31-13 overall in MMA and 20-11 in the UFC, that much change and uncertainty can be overwhelming.

Dos Anjos made his UFC debut in 2008 at UFC 91, a third-round knockout loss to Jeremy Stephens. The sport has grown by leaps and bounds since then and the competition is vastly better.

He said there’s no comparison in the competition level between now and then and used himself as an example.

“I’m way better than I was 10 years ago, no doubt about it,” he said. “I’m way, way better. Through all of the years, I’ve learned to train smarter, to take better care of my body and I regulate my weight better. I am careful what I put into my body now and I don’t get off my diet. I live this lifestyle 24/7 now because, honestly, you have to if you want to stay relevant and competitive.”

Dos Anjos’ resume is as deep and as impressive as it gets, and he’s fought the biggest names in his weight classes over the last 14 years. His 20 wins in the UFC are tied for sixth-most in company history and his 31 fights are tied for eighth. He’s second to Frankie Edgar in total cage time and is tied for second with 12 decision victories.

He’s also fifth in significant strikes landed, sixth in control time and 10th in top control time.

That’s come against some of the best fighters the UFC has produced. He’s fought both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kamaru Usman, the last two men to be recognized by the UFC as the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Counting interim titles, he’s faced eight men who have held a UFC championship, defeating Robbie Lawler, Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson and losing to Nurmagomedov, Usman, Colby Covington, Tony Ferguson and Eddie Alvarez. He also has wins over Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone, Paul Felder, Kevin Lee and Neil Magny.

He’s the only fighter to have faced both Nurmagomedov and Usman, and had no hesitation when asked who was the better of the two in his opinion.

“Oh, definitely Usman,” he said. “I can tell you that because 12 weeks before my fight with Khabib, I was training in the cage and my ear got stuck in the cage. I split my ear. It took 14 stitches to close it and I almost lost my ear. So I pretty much didn’t train any wrestling for that fight. I had no scrambles, no grappling, none of that. It was more feet and and knees and sparring and stuff like that.

“For Usman, I actually trained a lot of wrestling and he still took me down. He still controlled me. It was a five-round fight and I feel like Usman brought tougher competition for me.”