It was supposed to be Rafael dos Anjos, not Nate Diaz, who would welcome Conor McGregor to the lucrative world of cross-divisional prizefighting in the UFC.
Of course, we all know how that turned out. Approximately two weeks before McGregor was to challenge dos Anjos for lightweight gold at UFC 196, the Brazilian champion broke his foot and had to withdraw from the bout. Diaz stepped in on short notice, upset McGregor and, by most any account except maybe his own, was compensated handsomely for his work in a fight that reportedly made the March 5 card among the promotion’s top-selling pay-per-views of all time.
While Diaz-McGregor 2 figures to be big business for UFC 202 on Aug. 20, dos Anjos will return to action on a decidedly more low-profile -- though no less significant -- stage when he defends the 155-pound belt against Eddie Alvarez at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on July 7. Dos Anjos-Alvarez will headline a UFC Fight Pass-streamed card that kicks off an International Fight Week tripleheader that culminates with UFC 200 on July 9.
The spot is a big deal, to be sure, but still a far cry from the spotlight certain to shine on Diaz and McGregor in a couple months. That said, dos Anjos doesn’t spend much time lamenting the lost opportunity -- at least not when it comes to his bank account.
“A lot of people talk about that, about money, money, money. Everybody likes money. I like money, but I don’t love money,” dos Anjos said this week during a media conference call. “I fight because I like challenges, I like competing. But it’s not [disappointing] just because of the money, just because the fight was against Conor and I would make a big paycheck.
“I got hurt. I couldn’t compete. I spent a lot of time, a lot of money on that camp. And two weeks before the fight I broke my foot and I couldn’t show up. [It was disappointing] just because I didn’t fight, not because of the paycheck.”
Dos Anjos said that the injury has completely healed, and he will not hesitate to implement kicks into his game plan against Alvarez when they square off at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“The foot is 100-percent, man,” he said. “I’m kicking. I’m doing everything that I was doing [before the injury]. It was just a broken bone. Now that the bone is healed, I didn’t have any ligaments hurt. Now my bone is 100-percent. I’m kicking stronger than ever. I spent four months in Singapore training muay Thai. I kicked a lot over there. I’m ready to go.”
Alvarez, a former Bellator MMA lightweight titlist, earned his shot against dos Anjos on the strength of back-to-back split-decision wins over Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis in the Octagon. While the 32-year-old Philadelphia native remains a relative newcomer to the UFC, he has a wealth of fighting experience, earning notable wins over the likes of Michael Chandler, Pat Curran, Roger Huerta, Josh Neer, Katsunori Kikuno, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Aaron Riley over the course of his 31-bout professional tenure.
With that in mind, dos Anjos has had no trouble finding motivation for his latest opponent. After all, it’s all about the challenge, not the check.
“As you can see from my previous fights, I always show up better. I never cancel fights due to injury, but I had to cancel my last fight against Conor because of my foot. I’m so motivated right now. I can’t wait to fight again,” he said. “I can’t wait to put on a great show. I don’t want to prove anything. I just want to get a victory. It’s what I’m working for. One thing I can say: it’s going to be beautiful.”