Dubai: Apparently it doesn’t take a lot to get the juices flowing again for Paul ‘The Irish Dragon’ Felder.
Having considered retirement following his decision loss to Australian Dan Hooker in February, the 35-year-old Pennsylvania native has pounced on the opportunity to take a fight at just five days’ notice against Brazil’s Rafael dos Anjos in the main event at Fight Night Las Vegas 14 on Saturday night.
A long-time leading lightweight contender, the No. 7 ranked Felder, who has transitioned into a high-quality UFC commentator and analyst, will fill in for Islam Makhachev, who dropped out of the fight due to a staph infection, an illness caused by bacteria that most often affects the skin.
Dos Anjos, a former UFC Lightweight Champion, took to Twitter to praise Felder for accepting the fight.
“We need more fighters like you @felderpaul thank you for take the fight and save the show,” he wrote.
Felder meanwhile also posted an uplifting message on social media, saying: “The show much go on as they say! The man is a legend. These are the moments I will tell my grandkids about.”
Felder (17-5 MMA, 9-5 UFC) recognises that a win over a big name such as Dos Anjos will thrust him back into the lightweight spotlight and even resurrect his career.
“I started to get a little bitter towards the division, and I didn’t see that road,” Felder said during a virtual media conference on Thursday,
“I told you guys from the beginning: If I don’t see that path toward the top, then why I am I doing it? Why am I getting hit in the head? Why am I coming home beat up to my family if I’m not going to be the best? I’m not fighting just to make money. I’m fighting for opportunities to set me up for the future and for bigger things, then this presents itself.
“I’m stepping in on five days’ notice to fight an absolute legend in RDA. If I lose and he takes my ranking, then OK, I know that maybe I’m not meant to be fighting for the title anyway.
“The path is still there. With a win, how can you not argue to give me a fight that I really want with one of these top guys and one of these exciting matchups at 155 pounds? So for me, it made sense.”
Dos Anjos returns to lightweight for the first time since a November 2016 loss to Tony Ferguson. The Brazilian started out his welterweight career in impressive fashion going 3-0, but has since lost four of his past five fights. His only victory came against England’s Kevin Lee.
Dos Anjos said much of his motivation to move back to 155 pounds stemmed from the fact that, he might find a direct path toward title contention.
“My goal is to be a world champion, like I was, once again,” the 26-year-old Dos Anjos (29-13 MMA, 18-11 UFC) said on Thursday.
“In life, you have to make sacrifices. I think at welterweight, I had a good run. I fought for the title. But I think I’m not too big for welterweight. That gap, that 15-pound gap, is such a big gap.
“I put the work (in). I’ve been changing my whole diet, my whole body, for the past seven months. … I’m trying to reinvent myself and prove I can be a lightweight champion again.”
In the co-main event Ghana’s Abdul Razak Al-Hassan (10-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) looks to rediscover his momentum with another victory over American Khaos Williams (10-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) in a UFC welterweight contest.
Saturday night (4am Sunday UAE)
Lightweight: Paul Felder v Rafael dos Anjos
Welterweight: Abdul Razak Al-Hassan v Khaos Williams
Middleweight: Julian Marquez v Saparbek
Middleweight bout: Eryk Anders v Antonio Arroyo
Catchweight (195lb): Brendan Allen v Sean Strickland
(1am Sunday UAE)
Strawweight: Kay Hansen v Cory McKenna
Strawweight bout: Ashley Yoder v Miranda Granger
Welterweight bout: Alex Morono v Rhys McKee
Bantamweight bout: Jose Alberto Quinonez v Louis Smolka
Strawweight bout: Randa Markos v Kanako Murata
Bantamweight bout: Geraldo de Freitas v Tony Gravely
Heavyweight bout: Don’Tale Mayes v Roque Martinez