There was to be no fairytale story ending on five days’ notice for Paul Felder, as former champion Rafael dos Anjos made a triumphant return to the lightweight division with an impressive split decision victory in a Fight of the Night main event matchup. Beforehand, welterweight Khaos Williams lived up to the billing with a 30-second KO in the co-main event.
48-47 Felder, 50-45 RDA, 50-45: Rafael dos Anjos beats Paul Felder via split decision
Unfortunately, you have to ignore the first scorecard here. Felder was sharp with his striking, looked impressive for someone on such short-notice, but to give him three of five rounds?
Chris Lee has some answering to do. Anyway, enough about the questionable judging and more about an exciting Fight of the Night clash between two lightweight contenders.
dos Anjos push the pace early, was visibly cut by a left hook but completed a takedown despite some resistance by Felder against the fence. There was plenty more where that came from.
Both connected in their stand-up exchanges, though dos Anjos completed another takedown and finished the round strongly both in the clinch and as they separated before the horn.
Felder’s takedown defence (stuffed 16 of 22) was apparent, but he couldn’t stop the Brazilian from continually chasing them nor being able to showcase such excellent grappling skills either.
Whenever they scrapped in the centre, Felder comfortably held his own and was probably winning there too. Ultimately though, RDA’s tactics worked perfectly, pushing him to the fence.
dos Anjos completed a big slam in R3, lifting Felder off his feet to earn another takedown as he started to take control of the fight and absorbed some knees in the clinch for good measure.
Between rounds three and four, Felder’s head coach Duke Roufus stressed he needed to continue circling and target a stoppage victory. Honest but succinct, you could sense he was losing on the judges’ scorecards through 15 minutes and needed to pick up the pace.
He did just that, enjoying success in their stand-up exchanges for 90 seconds or so before RDA consciously reverted back to type – why would he not? – suffocating him with continued pressure as the threat of having to defend the Brazilian’s ground game bubbled under the surface.
dos Anjos’ whipping left hand punches were hitting Felder all night long, but perhaps none moreso than deep into R4. He let fly and watched as the Irish Dragon reacted almost in frustration that he was being outstruck and kept getting caught with the same shot.
The punch opened up a big cut above Felder’s eye and forced him into action, completing an unexpected takedown of his own before seeing it almost backfire as RDA was quickly reversing it.
dos Anjos’ grappling didn’t stop in R5 and with Felder starting to tire, he completed another takedown. A graphic flashed across the screen showing the former lightweight champion had tallied almost 15 minutes of control time (clinch and ground), which rather spoke volumes.
Felder’s efforts were admirable to say the least, but even while he regularly returned to his feet and defended plenty of takedowns well, found himself bullied against the fence.
RDA’s corner celebrated wildly as the horn sounded, in what was an impressive return to the 155lb division for a 36-year-old who could prove a real problem again for the top contenders.
He advanced forward when needed to, landed excellent strikes and mixed up his attacks against Felder – who had nothing to lose but his sloppy head movement saw him absorb more damage than he would’ve liked. Despite an exciting first two rounds, this ended up being exactly what it was: a prepared fighter with a training camp, against a gutsy fellow contender without one.
It’ll be interesting to see where the pair find themselves in the lightweight rankings after this clash, but Felder’s stock will not have been hurt too much considering the circumstances.
Khabib’s teammate Islam Makhachev was originally slated to face the Brazilian here so you’d assume that will be rebooked in early 2021, but who knows with this division now?
dos Anjos had plenty to say after, not least trying to make sense of what’s next for an increasingly stacked lightweight title picture after Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement last month.
“It’s been a crazy rollercoster this camp, I went to Brazil to train and was getting ready for Islam in Abu Dhabi. My whole family – me included – got COVID-19, it was rescheduled and then he had to pull out. I trained for a wrestler, took this fight and am not too happy with my performance.
I have more adjustments to make. You have nothing to lose [when stepping up], he said he’s going to have fun while I had a lot on the line and went through a lot. Hats off to him [Felder] for jumping in, we had a great fight for the fans. At 36, tonight was my 30th UFC appearance.
If Khabib is really retired, the division is wide open and if you look at the contenders, only me and Conor are the real champions in that division – everyone else [was] interim. Me and Conor is the fight to make.”
Unsurprisingly, McGregor responded soon afterwards on Twitter. The pair were scheduled to fight in 2016 but the Brazilian broke his foot in training and pulled out two weeks beforehand.
Felder meanwhile, distanced himself from suggestions that he’d retire and said plenty, having kept tight-lipped all week about his condition as well as the circumstances surrounding the fight.
“I got tired in R5, was in striking shape and cardio but I haven’t stepped foot in an MMA gym for four months – that was pure endurance, pad work. Cutting 22lbs in four days… Thursday was one of the darkest nights of my life.
We just had a five-round battle. I hope the UFC is proud of me, I love my guys at home and am not done. I might lose my ranking a little bit, but it doesn’t matter. What matters, is showing what determination you have.
For those who missed weight and couldn’t get here tonight, get your stuff together, hire a nutritionist and perform. I was dying on Thursday night, showed up with no training and loved every moment of it.”
We’ll see what’s next for both, in due course. It goes without saying that Felder deserves credit for saving this card’s main event, but where does this return leave RDA? Interesting.
Khaos Williams’ one-punch power ends co-main event in a flash
R1, 0:30 – Khaos Williams defeats Abdul Razak Alhassan via KO (punch)
The co-main event was billed as one between two ferocious finishers and certainly didn’t disappoint, nor waste much time either.
Williams improved to 11-1 with an emphatic finish, just three-and-a-half years after his professional debut. His body language was both defiant and foreshadowed what was to come.
Alhassan missed weight (172.5lbs) and if looks could kill, he would’ve been in serious danger on his way to the Octagon itself – undoubtedly feeling the 26-year-old’s frustration.
After three heavy leg kicks to start things with a bang, Williams landed a vicious right-hand that caught Alhassan clean and knocked him out cold. It was so quick, so violent, that referee Mark Smith instinctively knew but couldn’t stop an additional strike as the Ghanaian fell in a heap.
You could audibly hear UFC president Dana White congratulating Williams as he left the Octagon, while Alhassan was still receiving medical treatment, to say “that was one of the most vicious knockouts I’ve ever seen in my life,” the type of hyperbole we’re used to seeing from Dana.
This was no exaggeration. Williams just smirked in satisfaction as he walked past, but had plenty to say to Michael Bisping in his post-fight interview and didn’t mince words.
“I want to thank God, my team, everybody that believed in me, all the doubters – it’s not personal, it’s just punishment.
I was a diamond in the rough, waiting to be buffed and now I’m here. Hard work, dedication and I’ve been doing this for a long time.
I hope he’s alright, co-main event and you’ve seen what I did so it’s no fluke. Winning is a state of mind: I’m hungry, here and am going to keep doing this.
My one-punch knockout power? It’s a God-given talent, that’s what it is.”
Yoder grits her way to victory in slow-burning affair
30-27, 29-27, 29-26: Ashley Yoder beats Miranda Granger via unanimous decision
In a slow-burning strawweight clash, Yoder improved to 8-6 with a gritty UD win over Granger (7-2), who’s now lost her last two UFC bouts since a successful flyweight debut in August last year.
Yoder wrestled Granger to the ground early on, though Granger scrambled and quickly gained top position, despite Ashley searching for a kneebar submission attempt.
That didn’t last long, even though Granger failed to capitalise on her dominance from top position to score points for activity as the judges watched on.
Referee Jason Herzog continued warning both fighters in R2 for limited activity, as their exchanges on the ground weren’t particularly impactful.
Granger tried to lock in a kimura, Yoder this time wasn’t utilising top position effectively and the sequence spoke volumes for a fight that shouldn’t have been this high up the card in truth.
Yoder was in relative control, without inflicting much damage, heading into R3. Her cornermen told her as much, urging pressure and the exclamation point that she’d need to finish well.
After completing a more convincing takedown early in R3, she heard another Herzog warning before finally landing some ground-and-pound strikes that Granger had no answer for.
She treatened a rear-naked choke and was close to a stoppage before the final horn sounded, ending a frustrating 15-minute battle which lacked this pacing and intensity throughout.
Strickland delivers impressive display, blasts Allen away
R2, 1:32: Sean Strickland beats Brendan Allen via TKO (punches)
In a catchweight bout (195lbs), Sean Strickland earned his second victory in quick succession with an impressive TKO finish to dispatch of a gamely Brendan Allen inside two rounds.
The 29-year-old started brightly and you heard his clubbing blows as they landed with increasing frequency. Allen connected with a left hook that appeared to wobble Strickland, but only momentarily as Sean continued landing more volume and accuracy in their stand-up battles.
R2 started with a ferocious flurry by Strickland, who almost scored a knockdown early as Allen stumbled backwards towards the cage but kept eating damage for his troubles.
It didn’t last though, as Strickland continued letting his punches flow and refused to force the issue, instead mixing up his strikes well and enjoying a fast-paced tempo to his combinations.
That proved the beginning of the end, as referee Herb Dean quickly pulled him off Allen as he leaned motionless near the cage after a brutal combination to finish the fight.
Afterwards, Strickland revealed his desire to move up the rankings in 2021.
“It [the victory] feels good, I really wanted to finish him. All I wanted to do was stop him, not a lot of guys have done that. There’s always room for improvement, I’m my worst critic and we’ll go back to the drawing board. He had a chin on him, kept coming forward but I went in for the kill.
I’d like to get back and do a full camp next time, my cardio was tested [after two fights in quick succession]. Climb the rankings and improve my position.”
McKenna finishes strong in back-and-forth strawweight battle
29-28, 29-28, 29-28: Cory McKenna wins via unanimous decision
In a battle between two highly-rated young strawweight prospects, Kay Hansen and Cory McKenna kicked off the main card with an evenly-matched 15-minute scrap.
McKenna started brightly and Hansen, who earned a Performance of the Night bonus on her UFC debut in June, seemed to be struggling with her hair as their stand-up battles were tense early.
She teased a potential guillotine choke and completed a body triangle on the ground, but was being marked up by regular defensive punches as McKenna finished R1 strongly.
That was again the case in R2, having absorbed a flurry of body kicks as Hansen visibly grew in confidence during their stand-up battles while utilising her reach advantage to good effect.
Hansen went for another submission but McKenna did well to defend those manoevures on the ground before finishing strong in top position against the fence with cornermen cheering her on.
Hansen advanced forward and closed the distance well, though McKenna was finding increasing success with her counter-punching as she consciously tried to punish Kay’s aggressive approach.
Right on cue, Hansen completed another takedown and secured a body lock as they grappled on the ground. Despite gushing blood, she made a conscious effort to make McKenna uncomfortable but as was the case in the latter stages of their two previous rounds, it backfired.
McKenna landed nasty-looking elbows and having defended more submission manoevures, she reversed into one of her own to finish the fight on top before limping off with her hands raised.
Hansen enjoyed moments, but an inability to complete those submissions proved decisive as the battle of two 21-year-olds ended in the Welsh youngster’s favour on a triumphant UFC debut.
“It was a lot closer than I would’ve liked but was a great fight and hopefully I impressed. My ankle [where she was limping], it’s fine. I’ll be back in the gym as soon as possible.”
During a four-fight prelim card, there were no stoppage victories but plenty of interesting results nonetheless. Don’Tale Mayes kicked off the show with a UD (30-27 x 2, 29-28) victory over Roque Martinez in the heavyweight division, returning to the win column after two losses.
Alex Morono – who lost via KO to Khaos Williams back in February – impressed on his way to a 30-27 sweep on all three judges’ scorecards against promising welterweight Rhys McKee.
Meanwhile, Tony Gravely was victorious against Geraldo de Freitas in a bantamweight scrap that ultimately was decided via split decision. To finish, there was a UFC debutant victory for women’s strawweight Kanako Murata, who improved to 12-1 against Randa Markos.
Pictures’ source: MMAFighting.com, Yahoo Sports