UFC Fight Night predictions: Experts split on Paul Felder vs. Rafael dos Anjos winner


Paul Felder described what he's about to experience on Saturday night in the UFC Fight Night main event as an "experiment." He went from training for a triathlon and preparing for his analyst duties Saturday to now getting ready to face Rafael dos Anjos on five days' notice in a scheduled five-round fight.

For many fighters, that would be an insurmountable task. But Felder isn't like many fighters. He's in shape becuase of his endurance training, and he said "my brain is fresh, my body is fresh, I'm not taking beatings in sparring." He's currently a +160 underdog, but some experts view him as the favorite to win in Las Vegas (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET).

Felder replaces Islam Makhachev, who withdrew on Sunday with an undisclosed injury.

Dos Anjos (29-13) has dropped four of his past five fights, but all of them came against top welterweight contenders. In this fight, he'll be dropping back down to the lightweight division he once reigned over. Felder (17-5), meanwhile, has considered retirement since his loss to Dan Hooker in February. He's won two of his last three and five of his last seven, and some believe he deserved the decision against Hooker.

Will the extremely short notice hamper Felder's chances against dos Anjos? How much will the adjustment from Makhachev to Felder mess with dos Anjos' game plan? ESPN asked several fighters and coaches -- including Michael Chiesa, who beat dos Anjos in January -- to break down the action.

Eddie Cha, Fight Ready striking coach

The five days' notice thing changes everything. I'd have to go dos Anjos. Training for a marathon is one thing; training for triathlons is another. But we're talking about training for MMA rounds. Anyone who has ever grappled will tell you it's a whole different level of cardio. I think if RDA tries to grapple him, in a five-round fight, that's a lot to ask for anybody. I'd definitely go dos Anjos just for the cardio factor alone.

If Felder had a four-to-six-week training camp, I'd definitely take him. I like his striking a lot and I'd be unsure if dos Anjos could wrestle him the whole time. But in this case, dos Anjos was training for wrestling, because he was supposed to fight Makhachev. Maybe it was defensive wrestling, as opposed to offensive, but I don't think that changes anything. If anything, that lets me know RDA's cardio is going to be on point. I'm not saying RDA's only way to win is his wrestling. He has great kicks and so forth. But if he can just make it a full MMA fight, he should win.

Felder probably wasn't training in MMA at that level. I think Felder is a stud. Even if it were a three-round fight, I'd give him more of a chance. Felder might go for it and try to finish in the first two rounds, almost like Jorge Masvidal did against Kamaru Usman. But I could see dos Anjos being aggressive, too. I think dos Anjos might get Felder down and ground-and-pound him out.

Michael Chiesa, UFC welterweight

If it was anybody other than Felder in the situation that he's in now, the odds would be heavily stacked against him. What makes this fight very interesting, and a lot more challenging for RDA than a lot of people might think, is that Felder is a guy who puts himself through grueling training camps. He's always going into a fight with a lot of nagging injuries and he has a really hard cut to 155 pounds. But this is a fight where he had a camp, but he hasn't been training for a fight. He's been training for endurance sports. What people don't realize is he's in peak physical shape right now and he has no injuries.

Felder is 36 years old. He's been in the sport a long time. It gets to a point where you know how to fight whether you had a 12-week camp or a five-day camp. Then you pair that with the fact that the other side is RDA. The rumors are that he'll have an easier time than ever getting to 155 pounds. He's gonna be very in shape, as well. It's gonna come down to, is RDA going to wrestle this fight? He was probably never going to wrestle Makhachev. The game plan was probably defending takedowns against Makhachev and playing sprawl and brawl.

It all boils down to one thing: this is a cardio fight. Everyone wants to see RDA get in a standup fight, because everyone wants to wrestle the guy. The thing that could throw RDA off is that he was preparing for a southpaw. Felder is gonna have an orthodox stance. You usually go for your former opponents -- it usually makes you look better -- but I have to go with Paul. I think he's in shape; I think he has the cardio to have the fight favor him more. I think he's going to do very well. I think this fight goes five rounds, for sure.

Sayif Saud, Fortis MMA head coach

If you look at Felder, he's basically won six of his past seven fights. I thought he beat Dan Hooker, as a lot of people did. Felder is really peaking as a martial artist. He's still kind of at the height of his skills. I thought he looked great in that Hooker fight, when he needed to turn it on, he sure did. His ability to grind that fight out the way he did plays a big factor going into this fight, because dos Anjos is a guy who has fought plenty of main events, has plenty of experience. I think Felder looks like a fighter still in his prime as far as the skill set.

I think RDA poses a ton of challenges. You saw him against Kevin Lee kind of grind it out and get that finish, but besides that, he's lost four of his past five fights. That fight against Chiesa, especially, was not a great fight for him. But RDA has lost to top contenders. He's lost to Colby Covington, he's lost to Kamaru Usman. At 170, he was a bit outmatched size-wise. The question is at 155, is he back to where he was when he made that title run? I don't know the answer to that question yet. We'll have to see.

The power thing equals out. Felder is not a small guy, either. Honestly, the real key is how much has he trained in wrestling? I know his cardio is good. He's been swimming, preparing for a triathlon. His weight is down. But how much wrestling has he done? You know RDA has been training in wrestling to fight Islam. The question is how much has Felder been training in the transitional positions -- the clinch, the scrambles.

I think Felder has a shot here. I think he has a fight IQ. I think it's an opportunity for him to step in. I think it's a win-win. He's a smart guy, a commentator, a guy who understands the game. So he's obviously seen something there and he's swinging the bat, man. I think it's great -- I think it'll be a great fight. I think it's hard to pick him to win on such short notice given all the variables. But I think he has a solid chance of winning the fight. Judging off his last performance compared to RDA's performance, I think Felder deserves a real look here.

Tyson Chartier, New England Cartel coach

Felder is at that point in his career where he's going to do what makes sense for him and his future. He's 36. I'm sure he got paid pretty well to step in. He's got nothing to lose here. It's not like if he loses to this guy people will think he sucks or anything. I think RDA is in a tough spot. It's nothing to lose for Felder and a lot to lose for RDA. I think from a matchup standpoint it makes for an exciting fight.

RDA has been training this whole time to fight for a grappler and now he's fighting a striker. There's a lot of pressure on him. RDA has lost four of his past five fights. When you go up a weight class, a lot of times you're searching for confidence again. You realize, "I can't do this up here and I'm gonna go back down and make another run" -- it's a way to trick yourself into believing you've still got it. That's not to say RDA doesn't have it anymore, though.

With Felder being a striker and RDA maybe having something to prove, RDA might keep it standing a little bit longer than he should. Felder hasn't been training for a fight. I think RDA should definitely take him down, but I don't think he will. I think he'll try to stand with him, like almost a machismo thing. Like, "I'm back in this division; I'm gonna knock out the No. 7 who's a striker and try to make a statement." I don't suggest he does that, but I could see him doing it. If so, it wouldn't be a smart move.

I don't celebrate Felder for taking the fight any more than I do RDA. Both deserve an applause. This is one of those things where fighters fight and both are showing they're real fighters. I think I'm gonna go Felder, and I think he could get a finish in the later rounds. I'm going finish. The only reason because I think you're gonna see a really loose Felder. He's doing it because he wants to. RDA is in a position where he has to. A loose fighter is a dangerous fighter.

Gilbert Melendez, ESPN MMA analyst and former Strikeforce lightweight champion

These are two very dangerous fighters with a lot of power between them. Both guys really enjoy fighting.

A lot of people would say it isn't smart for Paul taking a fight on five days' notice, but I think Paul is at that stage where he's fought on the big stage -- and apparently he was training for a triathlon -- and he has that YOLO (you only live once) attitude right now and that can be a big benefit in a fight. But obviously, there is a lack of preparation for a guy like Rafael dos Anjos, who is great.

I think this is a matchup where both guys will dabble on the feet. Dos Anjos is a little lighter on the feet. I would never say Felder is flat-footed, but I think he's a more grounded fighter -- when he throws, he throws hard. He's kind of inching his way in a Thai stance, and fires hard. I like dos Anjos's lead right uppercut. He'll slip the jab and come with that right uppercut and straight left as a southpaw. I expect him to catch Felder, and then blast forward with a takedown.

But Felder reads his opponents very well and he has a great shield, which is hard to get through. He has a good left hook, which is great when you're fighting a southpaw. It's dangerous. Felder also loves to throw spinning back elbows, which I think against a southpaw may be more effective.

I think it's going to be really close on the feet and could come down to takedowns. I've got Rafael because of the takedowns, his resume and he's been in a training camp this whole time.