One of the keys to success in the fight game is to always maintain a level head, to remain focused solely on one’s gameplan. Even when faced with a seemingly impossible task of remaining calm when an adversary is in your face and sticking into you like a thorn, the best of the best always tend to ignore such distractions.
If Rafael dos Anjos is remain UFC lightweight champion come March 5, he’ll not only have to employ a nearly flawless approach to fighting Conor McGregor, he’ll have to do it by staying collected when the polarizing Irishman insults and disrespects him.
The Brazilian cleared another hurdle on Wednesday during a 45-minute press conference to officially announce the UFC 197 showdown, which will go down at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. But it might not be as easy as just simply ignoring “Notorious” for the next several weeks, as McGregor clearly struck a few nerves on the makeshift stage, though dos Anjos appeared stoic throughout.
“I’m not a trash talker. I respect my opponents,” dos Anjos stated to the assembled media and hundreds of fans. “I just talk the truth. On March 5, I’m going to send this guy home sad, and I’m going to keep my belt.”
McGregor showed up to the presser fashionably late and, like he’s done so many times before, immediately began laying into his opponent. Dos Anjos sat still with a stone face every time McGregor jabbed him for not being a true Brazilian, for supposedly not being beloved by his country, for beating less-than-stellar opposition or for being “sloppy.”
Dos Anjos did his best impersonation of Marco Antonio Barrera ignoring Prince Naseem Hamed’s tomfoolery, Joe Frazier wading through the trash talk of Muhammad Ali and Chris Weidman remaining relaxed while facing the showboating Anderson Silva. The champion expressed a calm, quiet demeanor, and he certainly wasn’t lacking in confidence.
“I’m a complete fighter. I fight standing, on the ground,” he said through an expressionless mask. “My history speaks for itself. I beat Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone twice. I fought taller guys, stronger guys.”
When the opportunity came, dos Anjos was quick to criticize McGregor, claiming that the Irishman is only fighting dos Anjos so that he wouldn’t have to risk his own belt, the UFC featherweight strap.
“This guy is in the 145-pound division and he’s trying to step into my division and take my belt,” he stated. “I will make sure that doesn’t happen. But he’s here and he’s a smart fighter (because) he don’t want to put his featherweight belt on the line. If he loses, then he wouldn’t have any belts. It’s smart because he’s coming up, and when I beat him, he’ll move back down to 145 and he’ll still be the champion.”
The only time during the presser that McGregor appeared to get under dos Anjos’ skin was when the 145-pound king disparaged the Brazilian for raising his two children as Americans, essentially calling dos Anjos a traitor to his country. McGregor mocked dos Anjos for naming his sons “Bob and Donald,” though they are actually named Gustavo and Rafael.
The lightweight champ kept his composure, though one could see in his eyes that dos Anjos was enraged that McGregor dared speak of his children. Dos Anjos was immediate in his defense of moving his family to America and questioned why McGregor would have that line of thinking.
“I think that doesn’t make any sense,” dos Anjos said. “The whole world has American dreams. There are Irish, Brazilian people living here, and these people who have American dreams don’t deserve to be called traitors. This guy calls me a traitor because I live here and I’m raising my kids here. There are people from all over the world who live in the United States, and these people don’t deserve to be called traitors.”
Those in attendance who expected the sort of fireworks that occurred when McGregor and Jose Aldo were together so many times, or when Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones tore into each in the same hotel, were left disappointed. McGregor never got to dos Anjos deep enough for the Brazilian to lose his cool and dos Anjos admitted that he has to remain relaxed, especially when the fight starts.
“I think his emotions got to him,” dos Anjos said of Aldo, a fellow Brazilian who was torched by McGregor in just 13 seconds. “I think he rushed out and got caught.”
If dos Anjos is able to weather the tempest of disrespect and mudslinging for the next six weeks, his next job will be to replicate that gameplan inside the Octagon. If he can do that as well, the collective who hates McGregor might get what they have coveted ever since he stormed onto the bright lights of the UFC’s biggest stage.
However, fight fans waited a decade for someone to finally shut up Floyd Mayweather Jr., and it never happened. Could dos Anjos be the guy to do it to MMA’s version of Mayweather?