Paul Felder will step out from behind the commentators’ desk and step into the Octagon this Saturday night as a last-minute replacement for the main event, but can ‘The Irish Dragon’ turn opportunity into triumph and beat former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos?
Dos Anjos, making his return to 155lbs after a stint at welterweight, was scheduled to face rising Russian star Islam Makhachev at the UFC APEX facility, but the bout had to be shelved for a second time when it was announced over the weekend that Makhachev had been forced to pull out for undisclosed reasons. Michael Chandler, who recently inked a deal with the UFC, turned down the opportunity to make his debut for the promotion by stepping in as a late replacement, but RDA now has a new foe in the form of Paul Felder.
Felder was already set to attend the event as part of the commentary team Saturday night, but instead he will now be part of the action as he enters the Octagon for the second time this year. Felder’s quest for a UFC lightweight title shot was derailed back in February when he dropped a split decision to Dan Hooker, but he remains inside the top 10 and knows that a victory over a dos Anjos could propel him into the top five. It will certainly earn him good favour from UFC bosses after he agreed to take the fight on just days’ notice.
But can Felder upset dos Anjos? RDA’s recent record makes for ugly reading with four defeats coming in his last five fights, but it would be unfair to simply judge him on that. That 1-4 run came in the welterweight ranks and three of those defeats came against some of the very best in that weight class, including current champion Kamaru Usman and former title contender Colby Covington. He did upset former champion Robbie Lawler during his stint at 170lbs and it was just around 18 months ago that he submitted Kevin Lee, so the Brazilian is hardly on a downturn in his career.
The move back to 155lbs could be a wise one however. RDA did not stick around at this weight class after surrendering the title to Eddie Alvarez before being bested over five rounds by Tony Ferguson, so the jump to 170lbs was hardly done out of desperation to kick-start a stuttering career. Dos Anjos should be much more at home at lightweight – after all, he once reigned over this division – and I expect him to make a return to winning ways despite the late change of opponent.
Dos Anjos probably wanted nothing to do with going to the mat against original opponent Makhachev, but that is certainly not the case here because he will have the edge over Felder in the grappling and Brazilian jiu jitsu game. And if he can smother, frustrate and perhaps pin ‘The Irish Dragon’ against the cage or down on the mat for minutes at a time then he will almost certainly eat away at the gas tank of a man who has had no real training camp and will have undoubtedly had to cut a substantial amount of weight at very short notice to make 155lbs. That is the key here.
If this was normal circumstances I would take RDA by decision because Felder is not an easy out – he has been stopped just once in his career. However, given what Felder has agreed to do, stepping into face a former champion at such short notice, I believe he could be submitted for the first time on Saturday night. Felder will start fast and fade, and RDA will then take full advantage to get him to the canvas and tap him out.