Rafael dos Anjos is back as Championship.
The former UFC lightweight titleholder returned to his long-time division on Saturday and was prolific after defeating Paul Felder via split decision (47-48, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. Dos Anjos showed a well-rounded game, doing damage on the feet – Felder was a bloody mess by the end – and grinded things against the fence as well as on the ground.
Felder was considered a color commentator on ESPN + broadcasts for this card. But Dos Anjos’ original rival, Islam Machev, returned last Sunday due to an undisclosed injury. Felder agreed to step down on just five days notice on Monday. Coming up, ESPN ranked Felder at No. 6 in the world in light.
“I was training for a wrestler, a south-facing wrestler,” Dos Anjos said. “And Paul Felder is a conservative striker. Very technical. Strong man. But we had to make this show.”
Judge Sal D’Auto and Derek Cleary scored all five rounds for Dos Anjos. Judge Chris Lee dissected. He scored second, third and fourth for Felder.
In his postfight interview, Dos Anjos called Connor McGregor; The fight that took place in 2016 before Dos Anjos was injured. Dos Anjos said that if UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov actually retired now, a match with McGregor would make the most sense.
“Whatever I want to face on the line for that belt,” Dos Anjos said. “I know I still got a lot. At the age of 36, tonight was my 30th UFC appearance. I think if Khabib is really retired, it will leave the division wide open. If you look at the claimants, only. And Conor, we’re only real [former] Champion in that division. … If the division is open, I think there is a fight to make me and Conor. “
Six months ago, Dos Anjos decided to return to mild from welterweight. He moved back to his native Brazil for training camp and worked with the prestigious Nova Unio camp in Rio de Janeiro. Dos Anjos devoted himself to dropping pounds, staying strict with his diet and using former featherweight champion and veteran Jose Aldo’s nutritionist.
Dos Anjos vs. Makhachev was initially scheduled for UFC 254 last month, but Dos Anjos and his entire family – including his wife, children and mother – tested positive for COVID-19. His wife, Christiana, was hospitalized. All are healthy now, but there was some news in the last few weeks.
“It’s been a crazy roller coaster this camp,” Dos Anjos said.
Meanwhile, Felder had to cut back on extra weight starting Monday to weigh in on Friday morning, which he did successfully. He said after Saturday’s fight that he weighed 178 pounds on Monday, meaning he cut more than 22 pounds in five days to come to Las Vegas at 155.75 pounds.
“Thursday night was probably one of the darkest nights of my life, cutting that weight,” Felder said in his postfight interview.
While Felder was training for a triathlon, he admitted that he had not done any MMA training recently.
“I was in really good cardio shape,” Felder said. “… I hadn’t set foot in an MMA gym in four months. It was based on pure endurance training and pad work.”
Felder looked clever and fast on his feet. He cut Dos Anjos with punch in the first and let loose with solid combinations in each round. But the combination of powerful striking, clutch work and takedown gave Dos Anjos the victory. In the fourth, dos Anjos opened a cut with Felder above Felder’s right eye. Felder was bleeding the rest of the way.
“He’s tough like a nail,” Dos Anjos said. “It’s really hard to fight a guy, when he said that, he had nothing to lose. It’s really hard to fight guys with that mentality. I had a lot on the line and he was strong … . He kept pushing. He has a big heart. “
The card surfaced unannounced at the UFC Apex, located across the UFC’s Vegas corporate campus.
Dos Anjos (30–13) spent three years at welterweight prior to this bout. He had lost four of his last five fights, all against welterweight contenders. Dos Anjos held the UFC lightweight title in 2015 and 2016. He has vowed to get there again during this latest run at 155 pounds – and Saturday was a great start.
Felder (17-6) delivered a split decision to Dan Hooker in his last bout in February. Prior to this, the Philadelphia native won five of the six. The 35-year-old Felder is regarded as one of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division. He was contemplating retirement after the loss of Hooters, stating that he only wanted to return for the fights that enticed him. Those retirement thoughts are no more, Felder said.
“I can tell you guys with certainty: I’m not going anywhere right now,” Felder said.