Rafael dos Anjos has been competing against the best UFC fighters in two of its most competitive divisions for nearly a decade. High-intensity intervals against seven world champions and almost as many title challengers will eventually take their toll.
Dos Anjos was preparing to meet Rafael Fiziev in the co-main event of UFC 272 on Saturday, March 5 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. But Fiziev was forced to withdraw from the card after contracting COVID-19, Fiziev's manager told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, and the UFC is exploring a replacement for RDA. If a new matchup is booked, it will mark the former UFC lightweight champion's first fight in more than 15 months and only his second contest in more than 25 months. That is a long delay for a time-tested veteran who has fought between two and four times in the UFC each calendar year dating back to 2009.
"I've been away for 15 months having injuries back to back. I was abusing my body for over 15 years," dos Anjos told CBS Sports. "Last year, I paid the price so I had to do fix some issues on my body, but I'm 100% healthy right now. I want it so much.
"I had a sports hernia, which was on my abdomen wall. That was back in March, it's going to be a year. I fought Paul Felder with that injury. I couldn't kick, I couldn't squat down, I couldn't do any sit-ups. I signed up for the fight and I fought with that injury... The other one was the meniscus on my right knee. I was just training, getting ready for Islam [Makhachev]. I had something they call a bucket handle on my meniscus. I removed it and now I'm 100%."
Check out the full interview with Rafael dos Anjos below.
Dos Anjos, 37, has been tied to the fight game for about as long as he can remember. The former champion started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a child, made his pro-MMA debut in 2004 and has notched 30 UFC fights over nearly 14 years. It is true that dos Anjos still has aspirations of being a world champion again, but the time off has allowed him to reflect on the things he wants to accomplish once he lays down his gloves for good.
"I'll open up a school and maybe manage fighters. I know what fighters go through and what they need. That should be something that I'm thinking of too," dos Anjos said. "Brazilian jiu-jitsu changed my life. It made me be able to change people's lives as well, impact people's lives. That is something I would like to do.
"I've been around for so long. I think 90% or pretty much 100% of the managers have never been in the Octagon. I'll say 99% have never been in the Octagon. They don't know what fighters go through, their personal lives and personal issues. I think I'd care more. I feel like I know what fighters need more. I care more about their personal lives, not only their fighting career. See the big picture, not just trying to push your fighters to make some money. I don't think that's the right way."
Dos Anjos has stated on multiple occasions that his well-rounded skillset poses the greatest threat to UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. While Oliveira's win over Dustin Poirier earned "Do Bronx" much fanfare, it only reinforced RDA's confidence.
"He's a very good jiu-jitsu fighter, but I see his movement is very steady, he doesn't move his head too much," dos Anjos said. "That's why he got caught a couple of times. He has very good momentum in his career, but I see when he takes people down and people just think 'defend, defend!' I know his mentality, I know how he thinks. When a jiu-jitsu guy has you on the ground, you can feel as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, I can feel when a guy is already playing defense and wants to get out of there. Just from their breathing. When you take people down, when you feel that they're calm and control your hands and know what you're doing, it's different.
"With me, if he gets me down and we scramble, I know what I'm going to do. I'm not going to give me back and just turn away and try to get out. I think that is why I present the most threatening fight for him."