Dos Anjos (30-13 MMA, 18-11 UFC) and McGregor (22-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) were supposed to face off for the lightweight title at UFC 196 in March 2016. “The Notorious” was the featherweight champ at the time, and was moving up to challenge dos Anjos in his quest to become the UFC’s first simultaneous dual-weight champion.
The bout was derailed less than two weeks out, though, when dos Anjos suffered a broken foot in training. He was replaced by Nate Diaz, who submitted McGregor on short notice in a welterweight fight to kickstart a chain reaction of events which still ripples to this day.
Dos Anjos’ withdrawal from UFC 196 still remains the only time in his nearly 16-year career that he’s pulled out of a fight. He doesn’t let the missed opportunity consume him, but he thinks there’s still a chance to make up for what never came to fruition.
“The whole history,” dos Anjos told MMA Junkie when asked why he still wants the fight. “I was the lightweight champion, he was coming up to challenge me and also, I got a lot of fights. That was the only one that I didn’t make it. That’s what I would like to have on my record, a fight with Conor. That’s why I tweeted out, ‘No more ifs.’ You see a lot of people say, ‘If that fight would’ve happened; If RDA won, If Conor won, what would’ve happened with Conor? If Conor had lost what would’ve happened?’ A lot of ifs. So it’s time to just put that thing on the table and let’s go. Let’s make this fight happen at any weight.”
McGregor claims he is retired from MMA. The Irish superstar recently announced for the third time in four years that he is walking away from competition, and clarified afterward that he doesn’t see many interesting options out there, and the UFC isn’t fulfilling his desire to stay active.
Dos Anjos has his hand way up in the air as a willing foe, should McGregor wish to return. And he thinks the timing is actually quite perfect.
“I don’t believe he’s retiring right now,” dos Anjos said. “That’s his third time retiring. I’m not buying that. I don’t think nobody is buying that. He’s too young and I believe he still has a lot in him. I don’t think he’s retiring right now.
“If you look at the whole situation, with me and Conor, I am ahead of him in the rankings at welterweight and this fight was supposed to happen four years ago and it didn’t happen. That would be a great fight. That’s the fight to make.”
UFC 196 wasn’t the only time a matchup between McGregor and dos Anjos had nearly materialized. The pair were close to fighting for an interim welterweight belt at UFC 224 in May 2018, but then McGregor had his infamous bus-attack moment in which he went after rival Khabib Nurmagomedov and caused several others to be hurt or negatively impacted in the process.
The contest was then pulled from consideration and dos Anjos faced Colby Covington for the interim strap at UFC 225, a fight dos Anjos lost, and the idea of a McGregor fight hasn’t come back around since. With both men being responsible for a fallout, dos Anjos hopes the third time is the charm.
“UFC was going to make the announcement we were going to fight for the interim title in Brazil, the welterweight title, but that wasn’t my fault,” dos Anjos said. “That was his fault. He decided to break the bus and then it didn’t happen. Everything happens for a reason. I got hurt that day. … My whole career I got 42 fights and I never pull out due to injury. That was the first time ever and I would love to run that fight again. I would love to have a good camp and get that fight again.”
Although a lot has happened in the four-plus years since dos Anjos and McGregor were originally booked to share the octagon, dos Anjos said one thing hasn’t changed over time: He’s a bad matchup for McGregor.
Dos Anjos claims he was fully prepared to fight injured at UFC 196 – and still get the win anyway – but the damage to his foot was beyond anything he could work around.
“I have no doubts I would beat him,” dos Anjos said. “No doubts in my mind. I was feeling great in the sparring and training with big guys and was training with Lyoto Machida a lot, who has a very similar base to Conor. I was training really good with all those guys and I have no doubts in my mind. Unfortunately, 13 or 12 days before the fight, in one of my sparring I kicked the guy the wrong way and I told Lorenzo Fertitta, ‘Lorenzo, if I can’t kick I’m still going to fight. But I can’t walk. I can’t make it to the cage.’ I was forced to pull out, I was in a hard cast and a lot of people made jokes.
“Even Conor made jokes that I pulled out with a bruised foot, but it wasn’t the truth. If I had a bruised foot I would still fight. The kicks were part of my game for that fight, but I couldn’t make it to the cage, I couldn’t walk so that’s why I was forced to pull out.”
Dos Anjos is aware that UFC wants to keep McGregor sidelined to fight the winner of the upcoming lightweight title unification bout between Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. McGregor wants to compete, but the promotion isn’t going to throw together any random pairing.
The biggest UFC fights typically have a strong backstory and narrative around them. There’s no shortage of history between dos Anjos and McGregor, so the recipe appears right to finally make it happen.
“The story speaks by itself,” dos Anjos said. “The fight was there, we were scheduled to fight and it makes sense. We can make both divisions, and I think not only me, but a lot of people think that fight makes sense. I think now the ball is in the UFC’s court. It’s their move. I did my move already so let’s see what’s going to happen in the next couple weeks.”