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Rafael dos Anjos questions ‘strategic’ lightweight contenders after UFC Fight Night 182 win

Rafael dos Anjos showed he can still be a player at lightweight in his return to the division Saturday at UFC Fight Night 182.

After spending the past four years at welterweight, dos Anjos (31-13 MMA, 19-11 UFC) made his comeback to 155 pounds and beat short-notice replacement Paul Felder (17-6 MMA, 9-6 UFC) by split decision in the headlining bout, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

Dos Anjos left the lightweight class when he hit a standstill in the title picture after losing the belt. He made a strong run at welterweight, but ultimately opted to move back down when his aspirations for a second title fizzled with some key losses. He’s now back in the division where he once ruled, and he wants to make a run back to the top.

The Brazilian first claimed UFC gold in March 2015 after a strong winning streak against the best available names. He’s willing to do it over again, but said it falls on the other contenders to match up with his same mindset.

“Whoever leads me to the gold,” dos Anjos told reporters, including MMA Junkie, of his next move at the UFC Fight Night 182 post-event news conference. “I moved up to become a champion again. Everything I do in life I try to be the best at it. When I move up to welterweight, I had a good shot, I won three fights in a row, I beat a 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.

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

Although the majority of the pre-fight narrative going into UFC Fight Night 182 revolved around Felder stepping in for Islam Makhachev on just five days’ notice, dos Anjos admitted it wasn’t an easy situation for him, either.

With UFC Fight Night 182 considered relatively weak by many people, dos Anjos said the event would’ve been canceled if he didn’t get a new opponent or agree to accept a new one. Felder, a striker, presented an entirely different challenge from the grappling-heavy Makhachev, and dos Anjos revealed the switch made his fight night approach more difficult.

“I had to do everything that I did not train for,” dos Anjos said. “Five days, I had to make all the adjustments. I was training to defend takedowns against a southpaw wrestler and I had to face a very technical orthodox striker and I got him to step on five days’ notice and he said he had nothing to lose. It’s very hard to fight against guys like that and I kind of felt it in the beginning of the round. I struggled a bit with the distance and him being orthodox, it took me a while to read that.”

Despite putting on a strong display over the course of 25 minutes, dos Anjos had to endure a bit of a nail biter when the fight with Felder was over. The first judges’ scorecard read was 48-47 to Felder, which was a perplexing call. The other two gave it 50-45 to dos Anjos, and he said he was happy he left with his rightfully earned win.

“I got scared,” dos Anjos said. “I thought I won every round. I was able to control and do my game and secure the W.”

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