Paul Felder was at home with his family in Philadelphia on Sunday evening. It was around 7:30 p.m., and as fields flipped through social media, he saw a report that Islam Makhachev was banned from his UFC Fight Night main event with Rafael dos Anjos, a fight scheduled for the following weekend.
This was a fight Felder was already thinking about as he was supposed to be the color commentator for the show and would be flying to Las Vegas later that week. But after watching the news, Felder felt a tugging feeling in his stomach. He wrote to his manager, Brian Butler of SuckerPunch Entertainment, about the possibility that he might fight dos Anjos on short notice. It was mostly a joke, said Felder.
The two agreed that this was an unlikely scenario. If the UFC called to offer the fight, they would think about it. But when Felder went to bed Sunday night, he had no intention of fighting on November 14th.
“I thought there was no way I was going to hell,” Felder told ESPN. “If they need me, they’ll get in touch. They didn’t answer, they didn’t offer fights. I was just a sourpuss about it.”
Well, in the fluid world of the UFC, a no off-season sports organization that hosts events almost every week of the year, things go very quickly. Sure enough, less than 48 hours after that text conversation with Butler, Felder was on a plane to Vegas. He would indeed be the opponent of dos Anjos.
What has changed for fields? What made him go into a cage with one of the most dangerous men in the division without preparation? There were several factors including that he was already in shape from training for a triathlon and a raise from the UFC.
Most importantly, after considering retirement since losing to Dan Hooker in February, Felder realized that kind of opportunity – a decision to save a card in five days’ notice – was exactly what he saw at this stage of his career needed. This decision makes Felder what he is – one of the most exciting and respected fighters in the lightweight division.
“At the end of the day we won’t really care, ‘Oh, his record was 17-5 or 20-6′,” said Felder. “Who’s there —? What did that person do? Were they brave enough to take the brave steps that other people can’t? When I look back, even if RDA hits me on Saturday, I don’t.” I just lost my last fight. Do you think I can’t get over a loss? I faced a former champion with five days’ notice. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. “
Dos Anjos was desperate. He also found out that Makhachev was out on Sunday evening. He got the bad news on a call with his manager, Giovanni Biscardi.
Since he decided six months ago to switch from welterweight back to lightweight, everything has been prepared for this moment. Dos Anjos had followed a strict diet and continued his training for the upcoming weight loss in a disciplined manner. The fight with Makhachev had already been postponed by UFC 254 on October 24th when dos Anjos tested positive for COVID-19 while training in his native Brazil.
That was not all. Dos Anjos’ entire family got the coronavirus, including his children and mother. Cristiane, his wife, ended up in the hospital. Dos Anjos himself, Biscardi said, has “severe symptoms”. All of them are now healthy, but the idea that the fight – the reason he trained so hard and potentially endangered his family – was not going to happen was devastating.
“I said I can’t believe it,” said dos Anjos. “I’ve put in a lot of work for months. … I just want to fight so badly. I was pretty sad. I want to work again.”
From Monday morning dos Anjos wasn’t sure if he would fight on Saturday. There was some social media buzz that maybe the new signee Michael Chandler, the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion, would be the opponent. But Chandler told MMA Junkie that he and the UFC had “other plans” for him. Dos Anjos, who doesn’t talk about trash, sent a fiery tweet at 12:44 p.m. ET.
If you aren’t struggling because you don’t have enough time to lose weight I understand, but don’t tell me you have other plans.
I became the champion of the BIGGEST organization that fought against everyone who put it in front of me. Shame on you.
– Rafael dos Anjos (@RdosAnjosMMA) November 9, 2020
“If you don’t struggle because you don’t have enough time to lose weight, I understand, but don’t tell me you have other plans,” wrote dos Anjos. “I became the champion of the BIGGEST organization that fought against everyone who put it in front of me. Shame on you.”
Behind the scenes, Biscardi was in dialogue with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby. Biscardi asked about Chandler, as well as another top lightweight name: Tony Ferguson.
“He has the mindset that I could see him fight in the short term,” said Biscardi.
Neither Chandler nor Ferguson appeared to be on the cards. Time was ticking. Dos Anjos’ team, including coach Andre Pederneiras, was scheduled to fly from Brazil to Las Vegas at 6pm on Monday. If there wasn’t a fight by then, Biscardi told Shelby, then there was no point for the team to make this long journey.
At around 2 p.m. Butler received the text from Shelby, which he wasn’t sure would get. The UFC reached out and offered Felder the fight against Dos Anjos. Butler immediately called Felder on FaceTime. Felder was in the gym and running on the treadmill, but lost weight anyway. He knew why Butler was calling.
Felder did not immediately say yes. The first thought was how he would bring his team together in just a few days. Could he bring his chef and nutritionist, Ian Larios, to Las Vegas? Felder’s trainer, Duke Roufus, would be in Connecticut on Thursday and corner Emmanuel Sanchez. Would Roufus be able to get a flight outside after the Bellator event to corner fields against dos Anjos?
Butler started bringing the logistics together. Felder ran on. He told Butler he needed a little more time to find out. How much he weighed would matter a lot, as he would have weighed 156 pounds or less in four days. Felder also wanted additional compensation from the UFC for taking short-term action against a dangerous opponent.
“It had to be worth it,” said Butler. “That was the other thing. Every fight at this point has to be worth it. I mean, Paul lost a piece of his lung from a previous fight. He broke his bones. This man has battle scars that he got for this company and It has to be worth it for him. He’s making a living out of the cage right now. I don’t want him to endanger himself if he’s already making a good living unless he’s absolutely passionate and enthusiastic about it it. Then we’ll do it. If he’s not, he’ll be fine. “
Felder went home, showered, and weighed himself. He wouldn’t say exactly how much he weighed, but it was “way under” 180 pounds and somewhere in the 170s, he told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. This is easier than usual during fight week because he swam and ran in preparation for a triathlon in March. Felder told Butler he was about to fight dos Anjos.
“Under normal circumstances, this would not be an easy route,” said Butler. “But because he trained so hard for this triathlon, he is really in good shape.”
Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder is getting ready to take on Rafael dos Anjos at the UFC Fight Night at short notice, as both fighters see an easy title in their future.
When Shelby got the word from Butler, he grabbed Biscardi and offered Felder as an opponent. That was around 4:30 p.m. Biscardi immediately said yes. Shelby asked if maybe the manager should ask dos Anjos first. Biscardi said he wasn’t worried about that.
“The problem here is that Rafael is a fighter,” said Biscardi. “My job is to hold him down. When the UFC said, ‘Islam cannot fight, we have [heavyweight champion] Stipe Miocic for you, ‘he would do that. “
Felder was a name dos Anjos had been interested in since making the decision to switch back to lightweight, Biscardi said, and the team was “very, very happy” with the new booking.
For dos Anjos, the matchup is dramatically different from what he expected. Felder is a right-handed and a striker; Makhachev is a Southpaw wrestler and grappler. Dos Anjos hadn’t prepared for that, but he was ready to fight no matter what opponent, and he wasn’t going to risk having the entire card voided for rejecting someone.
“I immediately said yes because I was told that if I don’t take a fight, they’ll probably have to cancel the whole show,” said dos Anjos. “It’s a lot of responsibility because we like to have  Fighters waiting for their paydays. I can’t be that selfish. “
The result, said Dos Anjos, was a “blessing”. Felder ranks higher than Makhachev, and a victory over him would bring dos Anjos closer to his ultimate goal: to regain the UFC lightweight title he held in 2015 and 2016.
“I have a mission,” said dos Anjos. “I want to be a champion again. I think God makes things [happen] at the perfect time. “
– Rafael dos Anjos (@RdosAnjosMMA) November 10, 2020
In the meantime, Felder had been looking for something to make him excited. He texted Butler recently when Robbie Lawler was eliminated from a scheduled bout with Mike Perry at UFC 255 later that month, but ultimately both decided that a rematch with Perry didn’t make sense. This time around, there won’t be an eight-week training camp outside his family with Roufus in Milwaukee or an exceptionally tough weight loss.
“Paul wants fights that fans will love,” said Butler. “Under normal circumstances, I’m not sure this fight would be as exciting as it is. I think if we booked Paul for a camp against RDA it would obviously be the case.” A big fight that many fans would love to see. But the fact that Paul fights intensely against the RDA for five days. [notice] adds a whole different level of excitement. “
Felder has carved out his own UFC niche. It was difficult for him to crack the top 5 in lightweight and get a title shot. But he was quick to pick up color annotations, perhaps because of his background in acting. Felder graduated from Philadelphia University of the Arts and was once a celebrated local stage actor. In July, Felder left the comment table in the middle of an event to corner his longtime friend Jared Gordon, whose entire team could not travel to Fight Island due to coronavirus issues. On Saturday, Felder will be adding a headlining card to comment on as yet another moment in an unpredictable, unique career.
“Something started a fire under my ass again and I had this itchy feeling again,” said Felder. “That’s what I’ve been waiting for. That’s why I didn’t rush back and didn’t take an opponent or fight because it’s the kind of sport you want to be in, you have to cut that off.” Weight, you have to get hurt and hurt someone. “