This weekend sees the UFC present UFC Vegas 14 from its APEX facility, and finally, we have a main event. The show was initially pegged to be headlined by UFC Lightweight contenders Rafael dos Anjos and Islam Makhachev, but when a staph infection sidelined the latter, things were in jeopardy.
Thankfully, highly ranked contender – and current UFC commentator – Paul Felder has agreed to take the fight on just five days notice, giving us a pretty cool sounding main event clash.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Vegas 14: Felder vs. Dos Anjos.
Also, tune in to this week's editioin of Cage Theory where the boys discuss Glover Teixeira's age-defying win over Thiago Santos and look to other upcoming events!
#1 UFC Lightweight Division: Paul Felder vs. Rafael dos Anjos
So essentially, this fight is boom or bust for Felder. The Irish Dragon, who is now as well known for his work as a commentator than his exploits in the Octagon, stated that he planned to retire from MMA following a loss to Dan Hooker in February.
However, Felder always suggested that the right fight could entice him back to the UFC, and so evidently, this is it. Dos Anjos isn’t ranked any higher than Felder, strangely enough. The Irish Dragon is currently #7 in the UFC’s Lightweight rankings, while RDA hasn’t actually fought in the division since 2016.
However, it’s easy to see the appeal for Felder. Dos Anjos is a former UFC champion in this weight class, and had he beaten Makhachev. He’d have found himself right back in title contention.
And that means that if Felder can overcome the Brazilian, it’d be hard not to consider him back in with the likes of Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson, and Justin Gaethje when it comes to the race for the likely-vacated UFC Lightweight crown.
So how do these two match up? It’s safe to say that both men are highly comfortable on the feet. A former practitioner of traditional martial arts like taekwondo and karate, Felder came into the UFC in 2014 with the reputation of being a flashy striker. And he lived up to that reputation by KOing Danny Castillo with an incredible spinning backfist in his second UFC fight.
From there, Felder was elevated into the upper echelon of the division. And while he’s suffered setbacks along the way, his wins over Edson Barboza, Charles Oliveira, and James Vick are some of the more impressive in the division.
Felder’s retained that flashy style, but he’s now far sharper with a meat-and-potatoes kickboxing game, essentially fighting somewhat like former training partner Donald Cerrone. He looks to fire sharp elbows and knees from the clinch, uses heavy leg kicks and long punches from distance, and has a tremendous killer instinct.
He’s also insanely tough. The only man to stop him in his MMA career thus far has been Francisco Trinaldo, and that was due to a cut (although Felder was losing the fight at the time). His most recent UFC fight with Hooker, for instance, was one of the all-time great wars of attrition, with both men taking what seemed to be a lifetime’s damage across the five rounds.
Dos Anjos is a more well-rounded fighter than Felder, it must be said. Once considered almost a one-dimensional grappler, the Brazilian has an array of venomous submissions on the mat.
Of his 29 wins, 10 have come by tap-out – including UFC wins over Kevin Lee and Neil Magny. However, something changed for RDA at some point around 2012.
It was then that he switched camps to work with famed trainer Rafael Cordeiro, who transformed RDA from that grappler into a genuine monster. Suddenly, dos Anjos could out-wrestle opponents who he would never have been able to take down during his earlier UFC career.
And more importantly, his striking game was transformed. RDA always had KO power – as his win over George Sotiropoulos at UFC 132 proved. But under Cordeiro, he was able to develop a pressure-based striking game that would see him walk his foes down and hammer them with hard leg kicks and brutal punching combinations.
The style took RDA to the UFC Lightweight title in 2015, and while he was dethroned a year later and no longer works with Cordeiro, he’s still largely the same fighter.
Right now, dos Anjos is on a poor run of one win his last five fights. However, that run should come with a caveat. 2017 saw RDA move up to 170lbs, and while he had initial success, it’s easy to see why he’s now on a slide. Basically, his four losses came against four fighters who are not only amongst the UFC’s biggest Welterweights but also the best stifling wrestlers in the division.
When it comes to this fight then, there’s simply no way Felder can replicate the stifling gameplan of Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington. So how can he win? For me, he’s going to have to rely on a couple of things. Firstly, he’s probably hoping that RDA – at the age of 36 – is going to come into the fight depleted after making his first cut to 155lbs in four years.
If that’s the case, then not only would dos Anjos’ grappling power be somewhat neutered, but he might not have such an advantage over an opponent taking the fight on such late notice.
And in terms of gameplan, he’s probably hoping that RDA’s overly aggressive striking style will cause him to walk into a sharp counter, as was the case when the Brazilian lost his UFC Lightweight title to Eddie Alvarez.
However, given he was technically retired and is taking the fight on such short notice, you’ve got to question exactly how sharp Felder’s counter game is going to be. And of course, despite having a string of recent losses, it’s not like RDA is no longer durable. That loss to Alvarez stands as his only UFC loss by stoppage since 2010.
Overall then, this a herculean task for Felder, and if he pulls it off, it should be considered the best win of his entire career. However, as much as it’d be cool to see, I can’t envision it happening. Given the circumstances surrounding the fight, I expect to see RDA with his hand raised this weekend.