UFC Vegas 14: Dos Anjos Looks to Spoil Felder’s Return

Paul Felder and Rafael dos Anjos, UFC Vegas 14 weigh-in
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 13: (L-R) Opponents Paul Felder and Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on November 13, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Paul Felder is looking for a storybook victory on Saturday night, but Rafael Dos Anjos is hoping to turn around his own rough stretch in the UFC Vegas 14 main event.

Rafael dos Anjos may appreciate the feel good story of Paul Felder’s willingness to step in on short notice, but that doesn’t mean he’s looking to do him any favors when the cage door closes for the UFC Vegas 14 main event.  Previously a lightweight champion who put together a 10-1 run in the UFC at the height of his powers, “RDA” is looking to snap a two fight skid at welterweight going into Saturday’s contest.  After coming up short in a bid for the interim welterweight title, dos Anjos struggled to return to form as he’s dropped four of his last five dating back to 2018.  His job figures to be safe as UFC President Dana White frequently praises him for his skill-level and consistency, but it does not change the fact that a third loss in a row could see him fall to the bottom of the rankings if not out of them altogether.

As Dana White has frequently said, dos Anjos is a fighter on the roster whom he uses as a litmus test to see if a fighter is ready for the next level.  Indeed, several fighters have used victories over the former champion to springboard into title contention including Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, Tony Ferguson, and Leon Edwards.  Looking at his resume, it is difficult to find a fighter who has had a more difficult schedule over the last several years.  He has proven his ability to continue competing with the best, and this move back to lightweight could be the shot he needs to rejuvenate his chances at getting back to the top of a division again.

The end of the year awards don’t give out trophies for being a company man, but if they did it would unanimously go to “The Irish Dragon” Paul Felder.  To begin, he was in one of the most entertaining fights of the year against Dan Hooker in New Zealand in February.  His odyssey over the summer to reach Fight Island has been well-chronicled in the UFC Fight Island: Declassified documentary as he overcame a positive test for COVID-19 to arrive in Abu Dhabi in time to not only commentate but also step away from the desk temporarily to corner his teammate Jared Gordon.  The icing on the cake: he is stepping into Saturday’s main event and agreed to not only make the limit of 155 pounds but also compete for the full 25 minutes if needed.  All of this when he was only expected to sit at the desk and call the fights as recently as Sunday.

While gamesmanship is not an issue for Felder, the sheer timing is expected to be.  While he is in great physical condition to agree to the terms, ring rust and timing are all real issues if he has not been in the gym preparing for a live opponent in months.  It should be noted, he had said after his fight with Hooker that he considered retirement and later said he would only consider competing in fights that interested him.  There has been no indication that one of those fights was on the horizon and thus there is reason to expect he may not have been doing large amounts of MMA training recently.

Stylistically, dos Anjos fights with a very conventional stance with a tight guard which he goes back to before every exchange while Felder’s striking is more fluid.  “RDA” should look to do damage early with leg-kicks and forward pressure to put immediate stress on Felder’s gas tank.  Felder should look to keep more distance and pick his spots to engage and disrupt the timing of the former champion.  The grappling of Dos Anjos figures to be the x-factor as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt figures to have a strong advantage if he can get on top of Felder.

Felder has stated that he is “50/50” on whether he fights again regardless of the outcome on Saturday, but it is expected he will not compete again unless he were to face a big name opponent such as Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, or one of the other top lightweights.  A victory for dos Anjos would inject much needed momentum and likely set up a clash with another member of the top ten.