When the main event for this week’s UFC Las Vegas 14 card lost one of its headliners, the organization adapted quickly to provide Brazilian lightweight Rafael dos Anjos an opponent for Saturday night. Seventh-ranked lightweight contender Paul Felder was announced as that co-headliner. This short-notice main event has layers of intrigue, as compelling reasons indicate each man has an excellent chance at victory.
Last week I missed in hemispheric fashion on my release of Thiago Santos. Glover Teixeira fought effectively while Santos looked faint-hearted and hesitant. That embarrassing loss could have been worse only had I taken Santos straight up -240. By using him as one leg of a parlay, the loss was minimized to a single unit for the evening.
The other release was Brendan Allen, but his opponent tested positive for COVID-19 at the last minute, forcing cancellation. Allen now receives a short-notice opponent for this slate in a catchweight fight that will be a contender for fight of the night.
Last week favorites ran 8-2, with both main and co-main event underdogs cashing.
Favorites in 2020 are 252-117-13 (65.9%), the highest it has been since 2017. I do believe a dog run is coming and I’ll be poised to try to attack when, not if, that run occurs.
Rafael dos Anjos -195 vs. Paul Felder 175, lightweight (155 pounds), main event
This fight was put together in a few hours after dos Anjos’ original opponent came down with a staph infection. The UFC swapped in Felder, the seventh-ranked lightweight contender.
Dos Anjos is an old-school warrior who has fought the elite in two divisions, though he drops to lightweight for this fight after competing for several years at the 170-pound weight class. At welterweight, he was undersized yet competitive against the division’s top fighters, which only adds to his credibility entering this bout.
RDA has been preparing to compete in a lightweight fight for several months, so his focus must remain on making weight and then fighting his fight. The big question is: How will he manage and endure this weight cut? For years he cited cutting weight as his reason for moving to welterweight. How dos Anjos, 35, looks on the scale making 155 pounds is a key to this bout. His performance on the scale Friday is critical, as it’s a tell for how this fight will transpire.
Dos Anjos is better than a well-rounded fighter, as he is expertly versed in BJJ and Muay Thai, among other specialties. He enters this fight used to battling larger, stronger welterweights. He has a depth of fighting experience, has faced only elite welterweights since 2017 and can project himself into the top five of this division with an impressive showing against Felder.
Felder goes from calling the fight for ESPN to taking this fight on less than six days’ notice. He also agreed to the lightweight limit of 155 pounds as well as a full five rounds, which is really unheard of in a situation like this.
Felder’s last bout this year was an epic five-round battle with Dan Hooker, a fight he lost via split decision but that many had him winning. He’s 2 inches taller, but other than height these men are physically quite similar.
Felder’s biggest issue in winning revolves around retirement, which he had discussed just after the Hooker loss, as well as the short notice of this fight. Felder stepping away from the broadcast desk and being awarded this opportunity ahead of other fighters who were more than willing to step in makes me suspicious.
This seems like a perfect time for Felder to wage one last spectacular effort, then leave his gloves in the cage. I must consider that as part of this handicap, and I rarely credit a fighter for talking about retirement. Rather, discussing retirement is usually an ominous tell for something the fighter already knows.
Felder will want to stand and strike. Because of the nature of his preparation, I can see Felder going out to finish the Brazilian early. The risk is that it usurps energy, something Felder may need in the late rounds.
I see dos Anjos being patient early to measure Felder and sap some of the zip from him and strive to take him into the middle rounds, where the chances of dragging Felder to the floor for a flogging become more likely.
Dos Anjos opened -165 and shot immediately to the current -195. It might be prudent to let this line settle and allow the weigh-ins to take place before committing on this main event.
There is no total on this fight yet.
Abdul Razak Alhassan -220 vs. Khaos Williams 185, welterweight (170 pounds), co-main event
The first thing my senses envision when these two clash is the sound of 5-ounce leather mitts careening off each other’s cranium and carcass.
Williams arrived to the UFC in a February debut against a fighter on this card, Alex Morono. Williams went off as a 240 underdog but KO’d Morono in the first round. Morono had been stopped only once in his career, and that was in 2014, so Williams surely has power in those hands.
Williams will have height, reach and youth advantages in a fight in which each combatant is sure to have a similar, simple plan: Knock the other man out.
As dynamic as Williams looked in that debut, we did not see his ability to weather adversity, how he could take a strike and how his cardio would hold up in a UFC bout after a stringent round and a half of total expenditure. Those questions need to be addressed, and I believe they will in this fight.
Alhassan is a fighter who had to overcome several months of inactivity before his last bout. In that fight he entered heavily favored and feared but also as a fighter who showed signs of being away from competition. He missed weight by 4 pounds and performed in a sluggish, lethargic manner on his way to a thorough defeat.
Some years ago, the Ghanaian flashed brutal power, explosive delivery and bad intent. In his last outing, Alhassan displayed those traits for about four minutes before he tired, and his younger opponent punished Alhassan and walked away with the huge upset.
Alhassan worked tirelessly to return to the cage, then performed sluggishly. I feel confident that Alhassan arrives fully focused off that poor performance. In this bout, overall octagon experience favors Alhassan, and I believe he will bounce dynamically.
Both men will come straight to the center of the octagon and attempt to put the other man’s lights completely out. Williams has advantages physically, while it’s my belief that Alhassan’s edges lie in his experience coupled with the desperation of having to fight off a loss when he was so expecting a victory.
This is a crossroads fight for Alhassan. If he wins, he creates the momentum needed to return as a potential force in the division. Lose, however, and his career spirals downward, which is something no fighter can afford at 35.
Alhassan’s beating in his last bout makes him very dangerous in this fight.
Leg one of two-fighter parlay with the second leg to be filled on a later card.
Total for this fight: 1.5 Under -165.
Sean Strickland -110 vs. Brendan Allen 110, catchweight (195 pounds)
Strickland turns around quickly after winning in impressive fashion on Halloween evening, and Allen is accommodated for his opponent’s cancellation last weekend.
Strickland’s victory was his first at middleweight after being away from the octagon for months recovering from a motorcycle accident. He dominated an overmatched Jack Marshman and earned the opportunity to get right back in the octagon for this bout, which is scheduled at a catchweight of 195 pounds.
Strickland is an accomplished striker who has a blue belt in BJJ. He’ll hold the advantage over Allen on the feet and will want to keep this fight standing to control the opponent with his piston jab, straight kicks and advanced striking acumen.
Allen was preparing to battle a more wrestling-based, power-punching opponent last week and now must shift his focus to a long, lanky, fluid precision striker in Strickland.
Allen will attempt to manage this fight into the clinch and then onto the floor as soon as possible, for his advantage is in the clinch and on the mat. He’s coming off a gritty win in June in which he incurred substantial skull and facial damage, so standing and striking with a pinpoint precision pounder like Strickland is not a tactic he’ll want to employ.
Where this fight takes place will go a long way in determining who wins. If this ends up a striking battle from stand-up position, I handicap Strickland will be too much for the 24-year-old Allen. Strickland fought champion Kamaru Usman to a decision, so I do trust his 81% takedown defense will be an impediment for Allen.
If Allen can force Strickland to the fence and onto the floor, he’ll earn the opportunity to work his ground-and-pound attack as well as his advanced BJJ skills over a 29-year-old fighter who will be uncomfortable rolling on the mat.
Outstanding matchmaking here, and while I was ready to side with Allen last week, this is a whole new opponent and set of circumstances.
Strickland opened -125, so Allen has received some attention from the market. I like Strickland but think it is important to allow this price to settle as time might increase Strickland’s value.
There is no total on the fight yet.
Eryk Anders -140 vs. Antonio Arroyo 120, middleweight (185 pounds)
Arroyo won a bout in Dana White’s contender series last July, which earned him his UFC debut in November. Arroyo displayed an effective striking game highlighted with damaging leg kicks in that fight, but his lack of an effective takedown defense left him exposed to his opponent.
Anders is a former Alabama linebacker-turned-UFC fighter who takes this bout on short notice. Anders brings athleticism, experience and unrelenting toughness to the cage. Though he’ll be the slightly smaller man, Anders will hold the reach advantage. That should make this interesting while it remains on the feet, but make no mistake that Anders’ best damage comes from top control on the floor, and that’s where he’s planning to take this bout immediately.
Anders owns a wealth of UFC experience and has faced superior competition, but the short notice must be factored. Anders trained and focused himself at the UFC Performance Institute specifically for this bout, so he is as prepared as can be.
Anders finally receives an opponent over whom he holds an advantage in every facet of the fight except preparation time. Provided Anders is in fighting shape and makes weight, he is a solid choice to immediately tackle his opponent and rain destruction on him from the opening bell.
Total for this fight: 2.5 Over -160.
Kanako Murata -180 vs. Randa Markos 155, women’s strawweight (115 pounds)
Murata is a debuting Japanese fighter who is 11-1 in her professional career. She enters the UFC via Invicta. She has won four of her last five fights, all via submission.
Markos is a tough Canadian wrestling-based fighter. Though her record is 10-9-1, Markos has been in the octagon and competed in tightly contested bouts with Amanda Ribas, Mackenzie Dern and Claudia Gadelha.
Markos is taller and will hold a reach advantage, which will provide her an edge on the feet, something she has rarely experienced.
Markos’ grit and wrestling base make her no easy task for anyone in the division, let alone a debuting fighter. Markos 145 is live, and I’ll update later in the week, allowing her price to increase.
Total for this fight: 2.5 Over -320.