LAS VEGAS — Rafael dos Anjos had trouble sleeping. Simply breathing as he went about his business during the day was a chore.
He underwent surgery in March to repair a deviated septum. He also had a chronic sinus issue and was bothered by allergies. His doctor knew he was a professional athlete, but when he began to work on dos Anjos’ nose, he could hardly believe it.
“My doctor said to me, ‘How could you possibly fight? It was impossible for you to breathe,'” dos Anjos, who fights Vicente Luque on Saturday at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 78, told Yahoo Sports. There were also breaks in his nose that dos Anjos didn’t know about, and they’d calcified.
It was, all in all, a mess and simply astounding that he was able to compete in one of the most difficult sports at the level he was able to do it.
A former lightweight champion, dos Anjos was never able to get a solid eight hours of sleep, essential for everyone but particularly for an athlete pushing his or her body to the limit in the midst of a grueling training camp. He was up and out of bed a lot during the night and wasn’t able to get the quality sleep athletes require.
Yet, he was still performing in the UFC. He’s 3-1 in his last four in the UFC with victories over Paul Felder, Renato Moicano and Bryan Barbarena.
“There was so much there he had to clean up that he was shocked I was able to fight at all,” dos Anjos said. “After I had the surgery, everything got much better. My levels of sleep were much better. I hadn’t been able to sleep well for many years.
“The problem with my sleeping previously was that I was breathing too much through my mouth because my nose was getting blocked. What happened is that I was getting that dry mouth. I’d wake up and have to get a drink of water to get relief from. Then I started waking up and going to the bathroom. I was wasting my nights getting the dry mouth and going to the bathroom and not sleeping properly. I did that for two years.”
He said he feels invigorated and a lot younger than 38. In Luque, he’s facing a talented, motivated opponent who is coming off a two-fight losing streak and is desperate to turn things around.
He’s dangerous, but feeling the way he does, dos Anjos knows he’ll be dangerous, as well.
He still hopes to get a chance to fight for the welterweight title. He lost a decision to champion Leon Edwards in 2019 before Edwards won the belt by knocking out Kamaru Usman with a late kick to the head.
He’s ranked ninth at lightweight, and Luque is 10th at welterweight, so it’s going to be a long, hard slog to get to the top of the rankings. Edwards is likely going to defend against No. 2-ranked Colby Covington, and the division is filled with elite talent.
Dos Anjos has proven himself elite in the past, and said he is optimistic he’ll be able to fight at a much higher level now than he’d been doing.
“I’m feeling so much better and even like the little things, the soreness you get in training camp, it’s way better,” dos Anjos said. “My recovery is so much better. It’s really remarkable what this surgery has done for me. It’s made me feel so much better and it’s really going to be noticeable, I think.”
Luque is a good challenge for him, particularly given his desperation. Dos Anjos has been in that position in the past, trying to turn things around after losing multiple fights in a row, and he understands how Luque may approach the bout.
He raved about Luque’s talents, but he’s as confident as he’s ever been.
“From my standpoint, I’ve done everything before and I’m a former champion,” he said. “I’ve been training really well. So I’m not too worried about what he is going to do. I’m worried about myself and what I need to do. I have five rounds and I’ve gone through it so many times. So I know I’m ready for this and to put on an excellent fight.”