There has been a lot of talk about Paul Felder saving the card this weekend. That’s not a hyperbole. Had the color commentator not agreed to step in, it’s hard to see who else would have agreed to step in that would deliver a quality main event with Rafael dos Anjos. The co-main event features one competitor with less than a minute of UFC experience and the other can’t consistently make the 170-pound welterweight limit. Felder claimed he had nothing to lose by taking this contest as he was leaning towards being done with the sport. However, with a win here, Felder could end up securing the type of high-profile fight he craves. He is doing the UFC a favor after all. Not that they tend to properly reward fighters for doing them favors, but I’d imagine he has the UFC’s ear better than most.
Paul Felder vs. Rafael dos Anjos, Lightweight
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Felder is immediately at a disadvantage as he has less than a week to cut down to 155. Yes, there are advantages to not having a full camp as he’s able to avoid the wear and tear that tends occur with a full camp. But Felder isn’t a small lightweight by any means and this isn’t a catchweight. I have a hard time believing he isn’t going to be emaciated. Perhaps it won’t be as big of a hole given dos Anjos began to have a difficult time making the weight cut towards the end of his initial lightweight run and reports are that Felder’s recent training has him leaner than he has been in years, but it’s impossible not to take note of that.
As for the nitty gritty and how they match up, it’s intriguing as hell. Now that he’s fighting men closer to his size, dos Anjos’ pressure and wrestling should increase in effectiveness. During his stay at 170, dos Anjos’ opposition began pushing back and the former lightweight champion is far more effective when he’s moving forward, launching periodic kicks to the body. Though he’s a solid wrestler, his grappling from the top is truly his bread and butter. It isn’t so much that he’s a major submission threat, but his positioning and ability to pound out a win.
As for Felder, originally coming from a taekwondo and karate background, his preferred fight takes place out in space, allowing him to launch his vaunted spinning attacks. Those opportunities are likely to be in short supply. Fortunately for Felder, he’s developed into a true MMA fighter, not having a real weakness. Sure, he rarely shoots for takedowns – not that he would really want to with RDA – but he’s improved his takedown defense significantly since his early UFC contests and doesn’t get the respect he deserves as a scrambler. Keep in mind he survived Charles Oliveira on his back too, showing enough resiliency to reverse the submission specialist and begin laying in the punishment thick with his elbows and punches.
Something that has become an unfortunate staple of a Felder fight is reminiscent of his former training partner, Donald Cerrone: his tendency to start slow. What is fortunate is Felder’s chin doesn’t come and go; it’s always there and made of granite. After eating some heavy shots, Felder tends to wake up and unleash his fury. Nonetheless, if he’s unable to secure a finish, those slow starts have cost him multiple decisions. He has a bit more time given this contest is five rounds… but he’s also taking this fight on short notice.
Though camps usually lead to wear and tear, I do believe they are more beneficial than taking a fight on a week’s notice. This is one of the few circumstances that I’d pick RDA to beat Felder. Many think RDA is shot given his recent losses, but he’s been losing to quality competition up a weight class from where he is at his best. He may not be the elite fighter he was when he was the champion, but he’s should still have enough to overcome a compromised Felder. Regardless, it should be an entertaining scrap. Dos Anjos via decision
- Khaos Williams made a hell of a splash upon his UFC debut, blasting Alex Morono into oblivion in just 27 seconds. With his explosive power and plus athleticism, Williams has all the tools to be a longtime UFC staple as he’s only 26. Whether he can be more than just a staple depends upon whether he can reign in his wildness as there are plenty of holes in his striking defense that he’s been able to gloss over by being the physically superior competitor. That’s not going to be the case with Abdul Razak Alhassan, a heavy hitting slugger with a short gas tank. Alhassan does have a judo background, but he rarely puts those skills on display as he has an embarrassment of power in his fists that has delivered first round KO’s in each of his UFC victories. If Williams can survive the opening round, he’s got the skill set – including some underrated wrestling – that he can take a decision or perhaps even be the first to finish the durable Alhassan. However, I see that as a tall order given his tendency to ignore defense. Alhassan via KO of RD1
- Saparbeg Safarov has become somewhat of a punchline during his UFC stint. His receding hairline, lack of definition, and lack of athleticism have doomed him to that fate as he looks like a homeless guy pulled off the street who was offered a sandwich to fight. He’s never going to be a meaningful contender as his physical limitations ensure of that, but that doesn’t mean Safarov doesn’t have a role in the UFC. He’s durable as hell, possesses a solid gas tank, has some solid wrestling, and prone to committing fouls. Nothing special, but Safarov will be in his opponent’s face and can make them pay if they get lazy. The question is whether he can push Julian Marquez. Coming off a torn latissimus dorsi that kept him sidelined for over two years, Marquez is absolutely massive for the middleweight division. His power rivals anyone within the division and he has surprised his opponents with his athletic ability. However, his gas tank can be called into question – no surprise given his difficult weight cut – and his takedown defense has been surprisingly porous. Nonetheless, even when he’s tired, there is no quit in Marquez and he’s ALWAYS looking for the finish, including power submissions. Marquez has enough holes that Safarov is probably going to have a few moments, but Marquez should eventually find a way to secure a violent finish. Marquez via TKO of RD2
- One of the problems many fans have with DWCS is that it tends to bring gifted young talents to the big show before they’re ready for it. Very few MMA fans would disagree that 21-year old Cory McKenna is the poster child for that issue. Of course, she’s the older fighter against Kay Hansen – by one month – but Hansen has nearly twice as many fights under her belt and has faced a higher caliber of competition. Plus, Hansen’s physical talents jump out with minimal film watching. She’s her natural burst is present in both her takedowns and her punches, though she still needs to have some wrinkles ironed out in her striking. That isn’t to say McKenna is lacking talent. She’s actually very similar to Hansen: a very strong wrestling base with a lot of rough edges on the feet. Aside from lacking the burst Hansen does – though some of that might be due to confidence – McKenna also has an unnaturally short reach that has shown up in her striking defense. Throw in the fact Hansen looks far more comfortable in the spotlight and I’ve got to go with the younger of the kiddos. Hansen via TKO of RD2
- Few fighters are more consistently frustrating than Eryk Anders. A plus athlete with plenty of power that’s amplified by his burst, Anders’ lack of direction has been an anchor around his neck. He’s not an outfighter. He’s not a pressure fighter. Hell, he isn’t a wrestler or a grappler either. Anders just tends to float through contests until he sees an opening he thinks he can explode into an opponent with. It worked early as his opponents weren’t familiar with him. Now they have a healthy respect for his physical gifts, it’s become harder for him to find finishes. However, that approach might work out with Antonio Arroyo, a lanky Brazilian with a tendency of leaving his chin up. To be fair to Arroyo, he hasn’t been KO’d in his career, but he also hasn’t faced someone with the power of Anders. Nonetheless, if Arroyo can avoid a clean Anders connection, he possesses a diverse enough attack – jabs, elbows, knees, kicks – at a higher pace than Anders, he should easily be able to take a decision… if the fight remains standing. Anders isn’t a wrestling phenom by any means, but Arroyo’s takedown defense has been poor. Regardless, even though Anders has largely continued to be aimless, I’ve seen enough slight improvements that I’m favoring the American. Anders via KO of RD1
- It feels like it was just a week ago that I was researching Brendan Allen. That’s because it was just a week ago. Hoping to not have a full training camp go to waste after Ian Heinisch tested positive for COVID-19, Allen agreed to meet in the middle of the Octagon with Sean Strickland. A win over Strickland doesn’t have the same cache as a win over Heinisch would, but it doesn’t mean nothing either. In fact, Strickland is fresh in everyone’s mind given he competed on Halloween, keeping his jab in the face of Jack Marshman for 15 minutes, all the while spewing the best trash talk in recent memory this side of the Diaz brothers. Given he was returning from a two year layoff thanks to a motorcycle accident – in addition to moving up from welterweight – it was extremely promising. Strickland has also had strong takedown defense, but that was at welterweight. That’s the key question as Allen’s bread and butter is the ground game. An excellent scrambler, Allen has a knack for finding his opponent’s back and sinking in an RNC. He has also made strides in his striking, improving his defense. However, he also gassed hard against Kyle Daukaus, merely looking to survive in the final round. He may only need to cut to 195 this time, but it’s still his second cut in a week. Strickland doesn’t have a lot of time in between his contests either, but that extra week makes a difference and he appeared plenty energetic against Marshman. Strickland via decision