UFC Fight Night Report: Rafael dos Anjos defeats Paul Felder in lightweight return
The UFC hosted a Fight Night event at the Apex Facility in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday night. The card was originally going to be headlined by a lightweight bout between Islam Makhachev and Rafael dos Anjos, but Makhachev was forced to pull out of the fight a week prior to the event. There was no shortage of fighters that threw their names into the hat to headline this card against dos Anjos, but it was ultimately Paul Felder who got the nod. Felder was initially scheduled to be part of the commentary team for this card, but he remarkably decided to step into this main event slot on just five days’ notice, while keeping the bout at its originally scheduled weight (as well as keeping the fight at the full five rounds). After a close decision loss to Dan Hooker earlier in the year, Felder indicated that he was considering retirement, but a bout against the former UFC Lightweight Champion was enough to entice him back into the octagon. For Rafael dos Anjos, this marked his return to the lightweight division after an eight-fight stint at welterweight. RDA only compiled a record of 4-4 at 170lbs, but those losses came to the highest level of competition in the division. A win over Paul Felder would move dos Anjos right back into the top ten of the division, as he attempts to make one last run at UFC gold.
A fight between Louis Smolka and Jose Alberto Quinonez was initially scheduled for this card, but the bout was canceled about an hour before the start of the main card (Smolka was declared medically unfit to compete). Additionally, Eryk Anders was to face Antônio Arroyo on the main card, but Anders pulled out on fight day due to weight cut complications. Both Anders and Smolka missed weight for their respective bouts on Friday.
Brendan Fitzgerald provided commentary for the card alongside Michael Bisping. Performance bonuses were awarded to Khaos Williams and Sean Strickland. Fight of the Night bonuses went out to Rafael dos Anjos and Paul Felder.
*Don’Tale Mayes def. Roque Martinez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Alex Morono def. Rhys McKee by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Tony Gravely def. Geraldo De Freitas by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)
*Kanako Murata def. Randa Markos by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Cory McKenna def. Kay Hansen by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Sean Strickland def. Brendan Allen by TKO at 1:32 of Round 2
*Ashley Yoder def. Miranda Granger by unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, 29-27)
*Khaos Williams def. Abdul Razak Alhassan by KO at 0:30 of Round 1
*Rafael dos Anjos def. Paul Felder by split decision (50-45, 50-45, 48-47)
DON’TALE MAYES (7-4, 262) VS ROQUE MARTINEZ (15-6-2, 244) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Mayes was backing Martinez up early, keeping him at range with his leg kicks. His output wavered as the round continued, and Martinez began to respond with some kicks of his own. This was a pretty slow round, and Mayes likely sealed it in his favor with a late takedown (that he admittedly didn’t do much with). 10-9 Mayes.
About thirty seconds into the second round, referee Chris Tognoni paused the action to give Mayes a hard warning regarding his outstretched fingers (his fourth warning of the fight). Mayes landed a pair of solid knees to the body when the action resumed. Martinez was having trouble getting anything going for him, and it seemed as though Mayes’s height and reach advantages were giving Martinez a lot of trouble. Mayes connected with a clean combination against the cage. Martinez shot for a takedown that Mayes defended, and Mayes partially landed a flying knee in response. Martinez ended the round with an uppercut, and Mayes responded with a combination that backed him up. 20-18 Mayes.
Mayes shot for a takedown early in the third round, and Martinez threatened a guillotine. Mayes escaped and began to press Martinez against the cage. Both men landed solid shots on the break. Martinez backed Mayes up with uppercuts, and just when it looked like the momentum was shifting in his favor, he shot for a takedown, which resulted in a stalemate against the cage. They separated with about a minute remaining in the round, and Mayes threw a spinning elbow. Mayes landed a pair of knees to the chin late in the round, but the fight ultimately went the distance. 29-28 Mayes.
WINNER: Don’Tale Mayes by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
This was hardly a great fight, but Don’Tale Mayes certainly looked better than he had throughout his last two UFC outings. He defended Martinez’s attempts to get the fight to the ground (where he has struggled in his previous fights) and was still throwing hard shots in the third round, which is something you don’t always see in fights between unranked heavyweights. Martinez has an impressive chin, but he’ll need to showcase more than that in his next fight.
ALEX MORONO (17-6, 1 NC, 170.5) VS RHYS MCKEE (10-3-1, 170.5) – WELTERWEIGHT
Morono flurried early, ending his combination with a strong left hand. He landed a right hand as McKee stepped in, and McKee’s face was looking very red. Morono attempted a takedown, McKee defended it and landed an elbow on the break. Morono was landing solid shots at a high rate throughout the round, and McKee was just eating them. Morono backed McKee up with a trio of right hands to end the round strong. 10-9 Morono.
McKee was doing a better job of avoiding Morono’s offense in the second round, and he began to attack the body. Morono ended a solid combination with a knee up the middle, and he took McKee down. McKee quickly sprung to his feet and they exchanged jabs after separating. Morono defended a takedown late in the round, and he landed a combination on the break. 20-18 Morono, but this was a much better round for McKee.
Morono looked tired by the third round, but that right hand of his was still finding a home whenever McKee committed to his striking. McKee landed a pair of hooks to the body that looked like hurt Morono, and Morono shot for a takedown to recover. McKee’s mouthpiece fell out in an exchange near the cage, and it fell under the cage. The action was stopped for quite some time while they all searched for McKee’s mouthpiece. We had UFC staff looking under the cage with flashlights, and the mouthpiece was eventually found. As the action resumed, Morono landed a knee up the middle and took McKee down once again. Morono transitioned to full mount and landed some strong ground and pound before time expired. 30-27 Morono.
WINNER: Alex Morono by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Morono’s output throughout this fight was impressive, especially when taking into account the power he was throwing with. McKee had his moments, but Morono did a good job of changing levels whenever McKee really got going. The search for McKee’s mouthpiece may have been a first in the UFC, and it was entertaining to listen in on referee Jason Herzog handling the situation. Morono is now 7-3 (1 NC) in the UFC.
TONY GRAVELY (19-6, 135.5) VS GERALDO DE FREITAS (12-5, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
De Freitas immediately met Gravely in the middle of the cage and started trading. Gravely quickly took him down, and began to work from half guard. De Freitas escaped to his feet and landed a strong leg kick. Gravely took him back to the ground, and began to work from his guard. De Freitas threatened an armbar, so Gravely picked him up and slammed him back down to the ground, which shook him off. Gravely spent the rest of the round in a dominant position, but didn’t really land anything of substance. 10-9 Gravely for me, but it was close.
De Freitas landed a right hand and succeeded on a takedown attempt to begin the second round. Gravely immediately popped back to his feet and began to search for a takedown of his own. He was unsuccessful and they separated, but De Freitas immediately shot again, and this time Gravely flipped him down. Gravely smothered him on the ground, and kept De Freitas from being as active off of his back as he was in the first. De Freitas got back to his feet late in the round, but he was quickly brought back to the ground. 20-18 going into the third on my scorecard.
Gravely took De Freitas down in the first minute of the third round, his sixth takedown of the fight. He racked up another two minutes of control time before De Freitas escaped. De Freitas landed a strong right hand, but Gravely immediately changed levels, and while he didn’t get the takedown, he got some time to recover. Still, he was hurt and De Freitas was teeing off on him as Gravely continuously shot for takedowns. Just when it looked like he might be overwhelmed, Gravely succeeded in bringing De Freitas to the ground. He didn’t keep him there long, but he survived the round and landed some solid right hands to end the fight. 29-28 Gravely.
WINNER: Tony Gravely by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)
The grappling exchanges early in the fight were entertaining, but as the fight wore on, Gravely became more and more dominant when the fight went to the ground. De Freitas takedown defense just wasn’t there, and it cost him the fight because he had a clear advantage on the feet. The scorecards were all over the place, but I honestly didn’t think 29-28 De Freitas was out of the realm of possibility. Gravely is now 1-1 in the UFC.
RANDA MARKOS (10-10-1, 116) VS KANAKO MURATA (11-1, 115) – STRAWWEIGHT
Murata brought Markos to the ground with a body lock and began to work from her guard. Markos got back to her feet with about half the round remaining and defended Murata’s next takedown attempt. Murata found success on her next attempt, however, tripping Markos to the ground, and she proceeded to move into half guard. She began to land strong ground and pound in the final minute, and Markos saved herself with a heel hook attempt that brought the fight to the second round. 10-9 Murata.
There were a lot of missed strikes from both fighters throughout the first half of the second round. Markos landed a leg kick and a decent right hand. Murata finally succeeded on a takedown attempt three minutes into the round. She wasn’t able to get off the ground and pound she did in the first, but it was more than enough to give her the edge in a slow round. 20-18 Murata.
Murata brought Markos back to the ground about a minute into the third round. Murata threatened a D’Arce choke at one point, but couldn’t finish the submission. Markos landed an up-kick at one point that was very close to being illegal, but it didn’t affect Murata much. This one went the distance. 30-27 Murata.
WINNER: Kanako Murata by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Murata controlled half the fight on the ground and was never in any danger. She showcased strong wrestling and dominated a veteran of the division in Randa Markos. This was her UFC debut, and she is currently on an eight-fight win streak. Markos has now lost her last three, and while I don’t see her being cut, her next fight is a must-win for her.
KAY HANSEN (7-3, 115.5) VS CORY MCKENNA (5-1, 16) – STRAWWEIGHT
Hansen was aggressive with her jab early, and McKenna was not hesitant to return fire. McKenna landed a right hand and shot for a takedown that Hansen defended. McKenna landed a strong combination that ended with a left hook, and Hansen’s eye looked like it was starting to swell. Hansen landed a strong knee to the head and took McKenna’s back as she brought her to the ground. Despite Hansen having her back, McKenna punched Hansen in the face about twenty times before the round ended. 10-9 Hansen, but I thought it was a close round.
Hansen landed a solid right hand to begin the second round. Her striking was looking fluid this round, and she mixed in some kicks to the body as well. Hansen partially landed on another knee to the head, and another later in the round. McKenna landed a right hand, and Hansen brought her down to the ground. She had her back and attempted a rear-naked choke, but McKenna slipped out. McKenna found her way on top in Hansen’s guard, and while she wasn’t able to do much, it always looks good to end the round on top. I had it 20-18 Hansen going into the third round.
They exchanged 1-2’s in the middle of the cage, and then Hansen brought McKenna back to the ground with a double leg. Hansen was bleeding heavily from her nose, but it was tough to say what moment caused the bleeding. McKenna landed solid elbows from her back, and Hansen transitioned to an arm triangle, as she attempted to finish the fight. McKenna scrambled out of it and ended up in side control. Hansen wrapped her up, and the fight went the distance. 30-27 Hansen for me.
WINNER: Cory McKenna by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
Honestly, I really couldn’t see the fight for Cory McKenna. I thought Hansen controlled the vast majority of every round, but McKenna ended every round strongly, which always looks good to the judges. Regardless, it was a good fight, and with both fighters being only 21 years of age, they may both have bright futures ahead of them. This was McKenna’s UFC debut.
SEAN STRICKLAND (21-3, 194.5) VS BRENDAN ALLEN (15-3, 193.5) – CATCHWEIGHT
Strickland fought just two weeks ago, earning a unanimous decision win against Jack Marshman.
Strickland caught a kick and brought Allen down to the ground, after an aggressive start from Allen. Allen made his way up against the cage, and they eventually separated. Both men were landing consistently on the feet, and Allen caught Strickland with a strong left hook, the most significant strike of the round. Strickland was doing a great job of wrapping Allen up whenever he got past Strickland’s jab. They both landed strong shots to end the round. 10-9 Strickland for me.
Strickland’s jab and his 1-2 continued to land. Allen landed a pair of leg kicks, but Strickland continued to pepper him with shots whenever he moved in. Strickland landed another 1-2 and a left hook that dropped Allen, and Strickland gave him no time to recover, swarming him with hooks against the cage, and referee Herb Dean quickly stepped in.
WINNER: Sean Strickland by TKO at 1:32 of Round 2
Strickland looked great here, and two wins in two weeks look great on his resume. He’s making up for lost time quickly, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in there with a ranked middleweight next. Strickland doesn’t do anything flashy, but his fundamentals are great, he doesn’t load up on every shot or overextends, and he seems to be a better fit at middleweight then at welterweight (where he was also a solid fighter). Strickland has won his last three fights.
MIRANDA GRANGER (7-1, 115.5) VS ASHLEY YODER (7-6, 115.5) – STRAWWEIGHT
Yoder got Granger to the ground about halfway through the round, but Granger scrambled on top. She landed a couple of strong hammerfists, but was unable to really advance her position. Yoder threatened a triangle choke attempt from the bottom but was unsuccessful. Uneventful round, that I narrowly gave to Granger.
Granger defended a takedown attempt from Yoder and pressed her against the cage. Yoder tried to throw Granger down as she did in the first, but she ended up on the bottom. I honestly don’t have anything to say regarding the rest of the round. Neither fighter did much, and they found themselves in a number of strange positional stalemates on the ground. I suppose Yoder may have won the round? It certainly felt like a draw headed into the third.
Yoder brought Granger back down to begin the third. She moved into top mount, but both women were so tall and flexible that Granger was able to wrap her up with her legs. Yoder began to let her ground and pound go, which allowed her to take Granger’s back. She locked in a body triangle, and with seconds remaining in the round, she locked in a tight rear-naked choke. Unfortunately for Yoder, there was not enough time left in the round to finish it, and time expired. I scored the fight 29-27 for Ashley Yoder.
WINNER: Ashley Yoder by unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, 29-27)
Every judge scored the third round as 10-8, and I thought that was completely fair. The first two rounds were rough, but Yoder went all out in the last half of the third round, and she came very, very, close to getting the finish. Bruce Buffer incorrectly read one of the scorecards as “27-26 Yoder”, which almost led to my brain exploding, but thankfully it was just an error on his end. Yoder is now 3-5 in the UFC.
ABDUL RAZAK ALHASSAN (10-2, 172.5) VS KHAOS WILLIAMS (10-1, 170) – WELTERWEIGHT
Alhassan missed weight by 1.5lbs, and he was fined 20% of his purse.
Williams opened up with a trio of leg kicks, and he landed a straight right hand that ended Alhassen’s night, hard.
WINNER: Khaos Williams by KO at 0:30 of Round 1
There’s no underselling this knockout. The second the punch landed; the fight was over. It was a while before Alhassan got up, which is always concerning, but he was eventually able to walk out of the cage himself. Khaos Williams has had two fights in the UFC, and they’ve gone a combined 0:58. He clearly has some legitimate power, and he is a prospect to keep an eye on a 170lbs. He is now on an eight-fight win streak.
PAUL FELDER (17-5, 156) VS RAFAEL DOS ANJOS (29-13, 156) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Felder took this fight on five days’ notice. This fight also notably marked dos Anjos’s 30th fight in the UFC, as well as his return to the lightweight division after an eight-fight stint at welterweight.
RDA landed a solid body kick and a left hook early. Both fighters were swinging heavily in the first minute. RDA landed a few more kicks to the body, but Felder cut him open with a left hand. RDA took Felder down near the cage, but Felder returned to his feet and landed a strong uppercut. Felder went for a spinning back fist and dos Anjos caught him with a straight left hand. Felder shot for a takedown, but dos Anjos defended it, and he went for a takedown of his own. RDA teed off on Felder against the cage and ended the round with a huge left hand. 10-9 dos Anjos.
Felder ate a few more body shots to begin the second round, but he defended a takedown from dos Anjos. They exchanged elbows. Felder defended another takedown attempt from dos Anjos against the cage, and he landed a knee to the head when RDA changed levels. Felder landed a right hand and dos Anjos responded with a body kick and a quick left hand. Felder’s right hand was landing repeatedly, and dos Anjos responded with another brutal hook to the body. RDA succeeded on his next takedown attempt near the cage, although Felder managed to climb back to his feet yet again. Rafael dos Anjos ended the round with a straight left hand. 20-18 dos Anjos.
Felder opened up the third round with a number of leg kicks, but dos Anjos pressed forward and brought him back against the cage. Felder managed to create separation and he brought dos Anjos back against the cage. When they broke apart, dos Anjos changed levels and brought Felder down. Once again, Felder made it back to his feet, and the fighters shared a laugh against the cage. RDA landed a few more left hands, before lifting Felder off his feet and slamming him to the ground. 30-27 RDA.
Felder’s corner told him that he needed a finish to win the fight, and he was very aggressive when the fourth round began. RDA went back to the body about a minute into the round, before bringing Felder back to the cage. Felder defended dos Anjos’s takedown attempt but found himself pressed against the cage for the majority of the round. With a minute left in the round they separated, and RDA landed a strong jab. Felder threw a solid combination, but a left hand from dos Anjos cut him open badly. Felder took RDA down, but couldn’t keep him there, and dos Anjos ended the round strongly. 40-36 dos Anjos.
They touched gloves to begin the fifth round, and they exchanged leg kicks. Felder defended a takedown attempt but found himself with his back to the cage yet again. RDA succeeded on his next takedown defense, and Felder’s face was a mess of blood. He began to look for the arm-triangle choke, but Felder scooted over to the cage, escaping the threat of the submission. RDA landed a number of knees to the body, as Felder got back to his feet. Felder defended a couple more takedown attempts, but RDA got him to the ground one last time and ended the fight with ground and pound. 50-45 dos Anjos.
WINNER: Rafael dos Anjos by split decision (50-45, 50-45, 48-47)
I’m going to start this off by talking about the judging. Chris Lee was the judge who scored the fight 48-47 in favor of Paul Felder, and he deserves any criticism he receives for the scorecard he submitted. I don’t think there is any possible way to give Felder three rounds in this fight, and he seemed puzzled with the scorecard himself as it was being read. Moving onto the actual fight, I thought both men looked great. Despite the brutal weight cut, and five days’ notice, I thought Paul Felder’s striking looked better than ever here. He was quick, fluid, and I didn’t see the stiffness in his striking that was there previously. RDA is a much better lightweight than he is a welterweight, and this was a prime Rafael dos Anjos performance from him, with relentless pressure, a varied attack to the head, body, and legs, along with a perfect mixture of grappling to keep Felder from getting comfortable. It was good to see him back in top form.
In dos Anjos’s post-fight interview, he stated that the fight to make is him versus Conor McGregor for the vacant lightweight championship, as with Khabib out of the picture, they are the only real champions (Ferguson, Gaethje, and Poirier all held the interim title). It seems McGregor’s next opponent will be Dustin Poirier, but there is a history between Conor and RDA, and it really wouldn’t shock me if we get that fight down the road.
Paul Felder cut an amazing promo in his post-fight interview, detailing the difficulties of his weight cut, and he went off on the fighters who missed weight for this card. He told Michael Bisping that he isn’t going anywhere, and it was great to see this fire from Felder, especially after his last fight where he was on the verge of retirement. As I said previously, despite losing every round on my scorecard, I thought Felder looked great here, and I’m looking forward to seeing him step back into the octagon on a full training camp. There is no shortage of interesting matchups for him at lightweight, and despite losing his last two fights, I think Felder has established himself as a credible headliner for Fight Nights.