There was a moment when Rafael dos Anjos thought he wouldn’t fight this weekend at UFC Vegas 14, but Paul Felder eventually stepped up on short notice to save the lightweight main event and the entire ESPN+ card.
dos Anjos, who will be fighting at lightweight for the first time sine 2016, was originally expected to meet surging contender Islam Makhachev in the headliner. Unfortunately, Makhachev had to withdraw from the event one week ago due to staph infection, leaving the entire card in doubt.
Felder, who hasn’t fought since a split-decision loss to Dan Hooker back in February, stepped up on just five days notice to put all the pieces back together. In turn, this helped RDA stay on the card and prevented any further cancellations.
“We heard that if our fight didn’t happen, the whole card would have been scrapped,” dos Anjos told Combate. “It was a huge responsibility. Everyone is in quarantine. Times are hard for everyone. A lot of people are expecting this money and to work. All that responsibility fell on my lap, pretty much. I want those guys to fight. It was a blessing that Paul Felder took the fight, a higher-ranked guy. Makhachev is a southpaw and a wrestler, Felder is orthodox and a striker, so things changed a little. But a fight is a fight and everything will work out.”
RDA was offered a few different opponents to step in for Makhachev but nothing seemed to push the needle for the former UFC champion. Dos Anjos was hoping to square off with newly-acquired lightweight contender Michael Chandler, but ultimately settled with Felder.
“I arrived in the USA two weeks before the fight. Sunday night, my manager called to tell me that Islam was out of the fight, I couldn’t believe it. It took me a while to process it. Then the negotiation started. Lots of people offering themselves for the spot. We were looking for the best option. They asked me if I could fight at welterweight. I was already below 170 pounds, so I couldn’t really take any welterweights like that. I’ve been training, I want to show I’m back at lightweight and I still have the skills to win the lightweight belt again. So I wanted to fight at lightweight.”
“I had the idea to send a tweet to Michael Chandler. He didn’t fight three weeks ago (when Chandler took the replacement spot for UFC 254, in case Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje withdrew from the fight). He’s always posting pictures and videos, so I thought ‘that’s our guy’. He’s always in shape, too and writing some catchphrases like ‘Always be ready’. Then he said he had other plans and that’s when the UFC offered me Paul Felder. That’s a fight we were already trying to book back in August. My weight wasn’t really doing that well back then, so it didn’t work. Then they offered me Makhachev again after a while, but I’m fighting Paul Felder on Saturday.”
Dos Anjos, 36, hasn’t tasted victory at 155 pounds since knocking off Donald Cerrone to defend his UFC lightweight title five years ago. This is an extremely important fight for RDA as the Brazilian veteran has turned in a dismal 1-4 record since the start of 2018. Another loss would put the former champion in serious limbo entering next year.
While dos Anjos was preparing for the wrestling and pressure of Makhachev he now has to deal with the striking of Felder. It’s a switch that the veteran fighter should be able to make, but it will create new dangers come fight time. We’ll have to wait and see if RDA can make a triumphant return to lightweight or if “Irish Dragon” will step in on short notice and steal the show.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 14 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 7 p.m. ET.
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