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Rafael dos Anjos on decision to fight Paul Felder: ‘If I don’t take this fight, nobody gets a payday’

UFC Fight Night: Felder v Dos AnjosPhoto by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Rafael dos Anjos is old-school and believes fighters shouldn’t pick opponents. But there was another reason he chose to fight Paul Felder on five days’ notice at UFC Vegas 14.

The former lightweight champion, who on Saturday returned to the division he once ruled with a solid decision over Felder, was under the impression there were serious consequences if he decided not to accept the short-notice fight.

“I heard if this fight did not happen, they [would] probably have to cancel the show,” dos Anjos told reporters at the post-event press conference at UFC APEX.

That didn’t sit well with dos Anjos, who hadn’t fought since a January decision loss to Michael Chiesa and was scheduled to face Islam Makhachev before Makhachev withdrew from the event due to a staph infection.

“I thought about my fellow friends, my fellow fighters, and it’s not fair for me – if I don’t take this fight, then nobody gets a payday,” dos Anjos. “I felt bad about it. … I thought whoever they [present], I will take the fight. I just want to take the fight. I just want to get the job done and get the win. I was able to do it tonight.”

Before they locked horns, Dos Anjos thanked Felder on Twitter for stepping up and taking a five-round fight on short notice. Felder was training for a marathon at the time he accepted the bout, but later said he endured a hellish weight cut to shrink to the 156-pound limit required for Saturday’s bout.

Makhachev’s withdrawal wasn’t the final setback for UFC Vegas 14. The fight card lost three more bouts after the Russian’s withdrawal, including one just hours before the first bout.

Dos Anjos had harsh words for another lightweight that he believed didn’t answer the call: Michael Chandler. The former Bellator lightweight champ said he never was offered the bout and had other plans for his octagon debut, but the episode left a bad taste in dos Anjos’ mouth.

Asked about a potential future meeting with lightweight standouts Justin Gaethje or Chandler should McGregor not be available, dos Anjos said, “whoever leads me closer to the gold.”

“I moved up to become a champion again. Everything I do in life, I try to be the best at it. When I moved up to welterweight, I had a good shot. I won three fights in a row. I beat the former champion. I fought for the title. I didn’t win, but now I’m back to lightweight, and I want to fight for the belt. The belt is my goal, and whoever leads me to the belt.

“I feel like in this top-five, fighters are playing very strategic. People don’t want to take fights because they want someone else to take the fight to see how the results are going to be. I don’t like that. I’m an old-school guy, and everybody fought everybody back in the day. I feel guys these days, they play so strategic. We’ll see how things play out.”

Dos Anjos has been around long enough to know that today’s plan can become tomorrow’s afterthought. After losing his initial matchup with McGregor, he failed to re-acquire the Irish target, and his fortunes dwindled at 155 pounds after back-to-back losses against Eddie Alvarez – who took the belt – and Tony Ferguson.

At 36, dos Anjos is trying to pull off a comeback in one of the most difficult and unpredictable weight divisions in the sport. A lot of things have to go right for him to get back to McGregor, let alone the belt.

But if he says and does nothing, dos Anjos won’t ever get close.

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