The story coming into UFC Fight Night on Saturday was the path of Paul Felder.
On Monday, just five days before the card, Felder agreed to be the short-notice replacement to fight Rafael dos Anjos in the main event in Las Vegas. Felder was supposed to be the color commentator on the event broadcast, but as the UFC looked for a fill-in when dos Anjos’ original opponent, Islam Makhachev, withdrew due to an undisclosed injury, Felder became a headliner.
How about dos Anjos, though? He went from fighting the up-and-coming Makhachev, an exceptional wrestler and grappler, to Felder, a dangerous striker and ESPN’s No. 6-ranked lightweight in the world. That’s no easy task for dos Anjos, the former UFC lightweight champion.
“It’s a completely different game,” dos Anjos told ESPN. “I was training for a wrestler — a southpaw wrestler. Paul Felder is a striker and an orthodox fighter. It makes a lot of difference to take that fight on five days’ notice.”
Felder (17-5) dropped a split decision to Dan Hooker in his last bout in February. Before that, the Philadelphia native had won five of six. Felder, 35, is known as one of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division. He had been contemplating retirement after the Hooker loss, saying he only wanted to come back for fights that enticed him.
Dos Anjos (29-13) is moving back down to lightweight for this bout after three years at welterweight. The Brazil native, who lives in California, has lost four of his past five fights, all against welterweight contenders. Dos Anjos, 36, held the UFC lightweight title in 2015 and 2016. He has vowed to get there again during this latest run at 155 pounds.
In the co-main event Saturday, Abdul Razak Alhassan meets Khaos Williams in a welterweight bout. Alhassan (10-2) dropped his last bout to Mounir Lazzez in July, snapping a three-fight winning streak. Williams (10-1) has won seven straight, including a 27-second knockout in his UFC debut against Alex Morono at UFC 247 in February.
Also on the UFC Fight Night card, prospects Kay Hansen and Cory McKenna meet in a women’s strawweight bout, blue-chipper Brendan Allen fights Sean Strickland and veteran strawweight Randa Markos welcomes the debuting Japanese wrestling standout Kanako Murata.
Fight in progress:
Strawweight: Kay Hansen (7-3, 1-0 UFC, -220) vs. Cory McKenna (5-1, 0-0 UFC, +190)
Strawweight: Kanako Murata (12-1, 1-0 UFC) defeats Randa Markos (10-11-1, 6-9-1 UFC) by unanimous decision
Less than a minute into her UFC debut, Murata showed the strawweight division what it faces in this former Invicta FC champion.
Murata, a 27-year-old who three times earned medals — including a gold — in representing Japan in the Asian Wrestling Championships, quickly put Markos on her back despite the Canadian’s best effort to fend off the wrestling. And while Murata didn’t do much with that takedown, she took the fight back to the canvas later in the round and proceeded to drop elbow after elbow before the horn.
It was just the beginning of a dominant performance. Murata scored four takedowns in all, and amassed over eight minutes of control, time on the mat. All three judges scored all three rounds for Marata, who won her eighth fight in a row.
Markos is not the steel of the 115-pound division, but she’s a veteran who had seen it all before. It was her 16th appearance as a UFC strawweight, tying her with Angela Hill for most ever.
The 35-year-old native of Iraq, who has long lived and trained in Windsor, Ontario, has lost three in a row and four of her last five.
Men’s bantamweight: Tony Gravely (20-6, 1-1 UFC) defeats Geraldo de Freitas (12-6, 1-2 UFC) by split decision
It was all about wrestling for Gravely.
Taking down de Freitas early and often, Gravely secured a split-decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28) victory in a bantamweight bout. It was the first UFC win for Gravely, a former Appalachian State University wrestling standout.
“I was just told to put that NCAA pressure on him,” Gravely said.
Indeed he did. Gravely took de Freitas down three times in the first round, not worried at all about de Freitas’ substantial Brazilian jiu-jitsu game. In the second, de Freitas had some success with combinations on the feet, but whenever Gravely seemed to be in any kind of trouble he was able to take de Freitas down.
Gravely had some rough moments at the end of the third. With both men tired, de Freitas was able to stuff some Gravely takedowns and land hard punching combinations on the feet. Gravely landed some hard right hands, too, before all was said and done. But it was the most trepidation he experienced in the 15 minutes.
Gravely, 29, has won eight of nine fights overall. The Virginia native, who now trains in Florida at American Top Team, lost his UFC debut to Brett Johns back in January. De Freitas, a 29-year-old Brazilian fighter, has dropped two in a row after winning his UFC debut over Felipe Colares in February 2019.
Welterweight: Alex Morono (18-6 1 NC, 7-3 1 NC UFC) defeats Rhys McKee (10-4-1, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision
Morono was in dominant position on the canvas delivering elbows when the final horn sounded, but it was his relentlessly damaging standup attack over the fight’s first 13 minutes that helped him get back in the win column.
The 30-year-old from Houston, who trains at Fortis MMA in Dallas, threw no fewer than 110 punches and kicks in each of the first two rounds, and landed at a better than 50% clip, in putting it on McKee from the get-go. By midway through the first round, McKee’s face was reddened after absorbing big right hands from Morono again and again.
And while McKee, 25 and from Northern Ireland, delivered offense of his own, he was outgunned for the most part as Morono got back on track after seeing a three-fight winning streak end in his last fight.
The fight was paused for several minutes midway through Round 3 after McKee’s mouthpiece was knocked from his mouth, flew under the cage and couldn’t immediately be found. That gave the fighters an extended break, and their fast pace resumed once the referee waved them back together.
All three judges scored it Morono’s way 30-27. McKee has lost two in a row after seeing a three-fight winning streak end in his UFC debut in July at the hands of Khamzat Chimaev.
“My goal was to make it to ten fights in the UFC, I accomplished that,” Morono said. “My new goal is to make it to twenty fights. … My plan is to just go into the Octagon and be known for a slugfest, for exciting fights and ideally get finishes that no one has gotten before, that are exciting. So I’m still looking to work on that a bit, but I just want to be known to have reliably fun fights and I feel like I was able to do that tonight.”
Heavyweight: Don’Tale Mayes (8-4, 1-2 UFC) defeats Roque Martinez (15-7-2, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision
Mayes had to weather a heavy Martinez storm in the third round, but he did enough to escape with a victory.
Using his length and a diverse game, the 6-foot-6 Mayes beat Martinez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) in a heavyweight bout to open the UFC Fight Night card. Martinez landed hard shots in the third round, but Mayes turned the tide late with a jumping knee to the chin.
Martinez had success in the first round on the feet, but Mayes got a takedown in the latter half of the frame and did damage from top position. In the second, Mayes let loose with some nice combinations, mixing punches, kicks and knees, though Martinez blocked a lot of the harder shots.
Martinez nearly stole the bout in the third. He had a guillotine choke attempt and blasted Mayes with a big 1-2 combination. But Mayes held on with the help of a jumping knee, followed by a knee in the clinch.
Mayes, 28, earned his first UFC victory Saturday. Now training out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he snapped a two-fight losing streak. Martinez, a 34-year-old Guam native, has dropped his first two UFC bouts.
Still to come:
Lightweight: Paul Felder (17-5, 9-5 UFC, +165) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (29-13, 18-11 UFC, -185)
Welterweight: Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-2, 4-2 UFC, -240) vs. Khaos Williams (10-1, 1-0 UFC, +200)
Strawweight: Ashley Yoder (7-6, 2-5 UFC, +140) vs. Miranda Granger (7-1, 1-1 UFC, -160)
Catchweight (195 pounds): Brendan Allen (15-3, 3-0 UFC, -110) vs. Sean Strickland (21-3, 8-3 UFC, -105)