When a fighter is successful in a certain division, they typically don’t have a desire to move up or down a weight class. They might choose to do so, if they have ambitions to conquer another division (see: Conor McGregor), but, for the most part, they stay put.
Well, the time has come for Rafael dos Anjos, the former UFC lightweight king, to make a change. Dos Anjos defeated Anthony Pettis in a masterful five-round lopsided main event at UFC 185. Following an easy first-round knockout of lightweight staple Donald Cerrone, dos Anjos went on to lose to title challenger Eddie Alvarez via a first-round knockout.
Following his title loss, dos Anjos dropped a five-round decision to up-and-coming lightweight contender Tony Ferguson, which seemed to signal the Brazilian’s move to a new weight class.
Dos Anjos stated why he made the move and how cutting down to 155 pounds affected him mentally and physically (via MMA Fighting):
“What made me move up to welterweight was all the effort I was doing, to look at my health and have a good life,” dos Anjos told MMA Fighting. “I wanted to stop sacrificing so much. For how much I was making, it’s not worth doing all this effort and destroy my body.[…]
According to the former champion, cutting down to 155 pounds became such a difficult task that he passed out multiple times before his UFC Fight Night 90 clash with Alvarez in July 2016.
“My body changed between 2014 and 2015,” he said. “I fought five times in 11 months, during that run for the title. I don’t see anyone doing this. I see Cerrone doing this, but I don’t see other doing this. I walk around with 187, 198 pounds, easy, and to cut this weight five times in 11 months was too much.
Considering all of the recent debate that has revolved around the dangers of weight-cutting and the fact that the UFC is trying to make it a safer process for its fighters, you can’t blame dos Anjos for going this route. At the age of 32, dos Anjos will have a tough time against a lot of younger and stronger fighters in the lightweight division, which houses some of the best competitors in the organization.
When you’re younger, your body is able to cut weight and push the limits of your well-being much easier. Granted, it’s not a good idea for anyone to put their body in any kind of danger of health risks, but that’s one of the many challenges in the sport of mixed martial arts.
So, taking all of this into consideration, dos Anjos decided not to put himself through this grueling process anymore. He also feels he can compete just fine with the rest of the fighters at welterweight, stating he trains with a lot of bigger, stronger guys. Of course, size isn’t the only factor in how you can perform against someone who’s bigger, but also technique and cardio.
Dos Anjos also pointed out that he never felt he fought to his full potential all these years, stating, “I fought well at 155, but I don’t think I ever came close to my best at 155. I think I’ll get to my best at 170 pounds.”
Overall, this is a great move for dos Anjos. He’s a former champion who has gone 14-7 in his career at lightweight, so why not try his luck at a weight class where he won’t have to suffer so much? He has already paid his dues and shown he can make it at 155, but it’s time for a change and move onto the next phase of his career.
In fact, he’s already set up for his next bout. Dos Anjos will take on Tarec Saffiedine at UFC Fight Night 111, when the organization makes its second appearance in Singapore in over two years. The former champion is already looking forward to the fight, stating it’s “just the fight I needed” to debut at 170 pounds.
As far as how he can compete with the fighters who are at a weight class above him, he doesn’t see it as that much of a problem (via MMA Fighting):
“I’m a former champion, but I’m not thinking about rankings right now, if I’m close to the belt,” dos Anjos said. “There are other fighters ahead of me. Demian Maia deserves to be the next for the belt. I’ll quietly move up, as always, and when the opportunity comes, I’ll embrace it. I’m here to fight the best.
Unfortunately, it’s fairly uncommon for fighters who change divisions to do just as well or better in their new weight class. They’re changing for a reason in the first place, and if you’re a fighter who’s already doing well in one division, your new one is a whole different puzzle to solve, especially when you’ve gotten so used to being at a certain weight. It’s completely understandable why dos Anjos would make this decision, but history dictates that he won’t do as well.