Rafael dos Anjos earns bloody decision win over Paul Felder at UFC Fight Night

Rafael dos Anjos is back in championship form.

The former UFC lightweight titleholder returned to his longtime division Saturday and was brilliant in defeating Paul Felder¬†via split decision (47-48, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. Dos Anjos showed a well-rounded game, doing damage on the feet — Felder was a bloody mess by the end — and grinding things out against the fence, as well as on the ground.

Felder was supposed to be a color commentator on the ESPN+ broadcast for this card. But dos Anjos’ original opponent,¬†Islam Makhachev, withdrew due to an undisclosed injury last Sunday. Felder agreed Monday to step in on just five days’ notice. Coming in, ESPN had Felder ranked No. 6 in the world at lightweight.

“I was training for a wrestler, a southpaw wrestler,” dos Anjos said. “And Paul Felder is an orthodox striker. Very technical. Strong guy. But we had to make the show happen.”

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Judges Sal D’Amato and Derek Cleary scored all five rounds for dos Anjos. Judge Chris Lee dissented. He scored the second, third and fourth for Felder.

In his postfight interview, dos Anjos called out Conor McGregor; that fight that was supposed to happen in 2016 before dos Anjos got injured.

Dos Anjos said if UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is really retired now, a fight with McGregor makes the most sense.

“I want to face whoever is on the line for that belt,” dos Anjos stated. “I know I’ve got a lot in me still. At 36 years old, tonight was my 30th UFC appearance. I think if Khabib is really retired, it will leave the division wide open. If you look at the contenders, only me and Conor, we are the only real [former] champions in that division. … If the division is open, I think me and Conor is the fight to make.”

Six months ago, dos Anjos decided to move back down from welterweight to lightweight. He moved back to his native Brazil for training camp and worked with the prestigious Nova Uniao camp in Rio de Janeiro. Dos Anjos dedicated himself to dropping the pounds, staying strict with his diet and using the nutritionist of former featherweight champion and legend Jose Aldo.

Dos Anjos vs. Makhachev was originally scheduled for UFC 254 last month, but dos Anjos and his entire family — including his wife, children and mother — tested positive for COVID-19. His wife, Cristiane, had to be admitted to the hospital. All are healthy now, but there were moments of trepidation over the past few weeks.

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