How Rafael dos Anjos reset his career after losing 23 pounds in three days

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Rafael dos Anjos celebrates his win over Neil Magny at UFC 215 in September. (AP)
Rafael dos Anjos celebrates his win over Neil Magny at UFC 215 in September. (AP)

Three days before he was to fight Benson Henderson in a 2014 UFC card, Rafael dos Anjos was 23 pounds over the 155-pound weight limit. Yet few outside dos Anjos’ immediate family gave much thought to cutting that much weight in that little time.

But dos Anjos was taking a highly dangerous risk, and he knew it. Fighters have died – and will continue to – as a result of extreme weight cuts.

Dos Anjos and fighters like him, from the time there were weight classes, have chosen to fight at the lowest possible weight they could make. Their reasoning is that they’ll be bigger and stronger, and after rehydrating they’ll have a significant advantage.

But dos Anjos, who won the lightweight title (155-pound limit) in 2015, finally decided the risk-reward scenario was no longer worth it.

He opted to move to welterweight (170-pound limit) after a loss to Tony Ferguson last year. He’s won his two fights since, and has an entirely different outlook on his sport, his weight class and life now.

“It was really bad, and every time, it was getting worse and worse and worse,” said dos Anjos, who on Saturday will fight ex-welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in the main event of a show on Fox. “Today, I look back and it makes me shake my head. I don’t know how I possibly made that weight. It was so hard, and I felt badly many times.”

Dos Anjos and fighters like him would “tough it out,” and go through the agonizing process of cutting as much as 22 percent of their total body weight for a bout. He said he weighs 198 or 200 between fights, and so had to cut as much as 45 pounds to make the 155-pound limit.

It wasn’t safe, and he knew it. It cost him his championship when he really struggled prior to a defense against Eddie Alvarez.

“It was coming and I was feeling worse and worse each time I made the cut, but against Alvarez, that was the one where I was so bad and I passed out,” he said. “It was very difficult for Tony Ferguson. I couldn’t stand up for an hour.”

He finally made the wise decision. He was too big for lightweight and opted to move to welterweight. He’s fighting guys who now have a physical size advantage over him, but he doesn’t care.

“Look, I’m 33 years old and I love my life and I have a great family and kids, and why would I want to risk all of that by trying to cut so much weight?” dos Anjos said. “I finally realized I was just hurting myself and putting at risk everything I love. Some guys have already died [cutting weight], not in the UFC but in other organizations.

“It doesn’t make any sense. We’re killing ourselves doing that. You put your body through all of this trauma just to make weight, and then the next day you’re going to get punched in the head. I realized that eventually and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ Fortunately for me, I had my run at lightweight and had the title and maybe that made it easier for me to say I should move up. But whatever it was, I realized how dangerous it was and what I was doing to myself and I knew I had to change.”

In his two fights at welterweight, he seemed to be a different fighter. He had a burst and an energy that had previously been lacking.

He was especially sharp in submitting Neil Magny in less than four minutes on Sept. 9 when they met at UFC 215. He’ll face his toughest welterweight test on Saturday given that Lawler is one of the elite fighters in the world and a large welterweight, but dos Anjos said he’s never had a second thought.

He’s eager for the fight and believes that he’ll perform his best because he’s competing at a healthier weight.

“You know he fights and he’s going to bring it, but I’m ready for that,” dos Anjos said. “He’s going to come aggressively and strong and I believe he’ll try to solve the puzzle even faster. But I’m sure I’m going to be able to handle it.

“I think I’ll be able to use my speed and it will allow me to do things I need to do to beat him. I’m healthy now, and I’m feeling good. This decision was so smart. I respect Robbie and I know how good he is, but I know how good I feel and I believe because I decided to do the smart thing, I’ll be able to win this fight.”

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