It was as if Rafael dos Anjos had never left.
The former undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder returned to the division he once ruled for the first time since 2016 and looked like his old self, as he turned away Paul Felder by split decision in the UFC Fight Night 182 main event on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Judges Derek Cleary and Sal D’Amato scored it 50-45 for dos Anjos, while Chris Lee saw it 48-47 for Felder. Most observers agreed the result was far more cut and dried.
So long as he steered clear of the cage, Felder remained effective with sharp combinations and sneaky elbows out in the open. However, dos Anjos pressed his advantages at close range and did so relentlessly. He routinely pressed Felder into the fence, at which point he was in his wheelhouse. Dos Anjos completed six of the 22 takedowns he attempted—many of them from the clinch—and managed to neutralize “The Irish Dragon” with positional advances, stifling control, ground-and-pound and modest passes at submissions.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Felder vs. dos Anjos,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Dustin Poirier-Conor McGregor winner: Dos Anjos’ reputation and the built-in equity that accompanies it makes a potential late-career climb at 155 pounds a little less harrowing. The 36-year-old held the lightweight crown for 481 days, from March 14, 2015 to July 7, 2016, and owns high-profile victories over Donald Cerrone (twice), Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis. A stellar performance against Felder under less-than-ideal circumstances—original opponent Islam Makhachev withdrew six days before the event—puts dos Anjos in position to make immediate waves at or near the top of the weight class. Poirier and McGregor are tentatively booked for a rematch at UFC 257 on Jan. 23, with the Brazilian perhaps waiting in the wings for the winner. Should Poirier or McGregor bow out of their proposed blockbuster, dos Anjos would become an obvious choice to fill in.
Kalinn Williams vs. Mike Perry-Tim Means winner: Williams stole the show with his violent exploits, as he blew away fellow knockout artist Abdul Razak Alhassan less than a minute into their welterweight co-feature. “Khaos” brought it to an emphatic close with a crushing counter right hand 30 seconds into Round 1. A relative unknown when he joined the UFC roster February, Williams has put himself on the map with sub-minute knockouts in each of his first two Octagon appearances. Now in possession of an eight-fight winning streak and an eye-catching 11-1 record, his degree of difficulty figures to increase with his next assignment. The flamboyant and outspoken Perry will confront Means at UFC 255 on Nov. 21.
Sean Strickland vs. Kelvin Gastelum-Ian Heinisch winner: In his second outing since a motorcycle accident sidelined him for two years, Strickland continued to remind onlookers why he was once considered one of the sport’s brightest young talents. The former King of the Cage champion brought down Brendan Allen with punches, drawing the curtain 92 seconds into the second round of their middleweight showcase. A piercing jab and crackling combinations allowed the well-rounded Strickland to maintain control and pursue the finish. The 29-year-old has become impossible to ignore at 185 pounds. Gastelum will square off with Heinisch at a UFC Fight Night event on Jan. 30.
Alex Morono vs. Jake Matthews: Morono quietly improved to 7-3 under the UFC flag with a unanimous decision over former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion Rhys McKee on the undercard. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for the Fortis MMA welterweight, who entered the cage as a -200 underdog. Morono executed three takedowns and outstruck the Irish prospect by a 208-133 margin across three rounds. The 30-year-old Houston native has rattled off four wins in his last five outings, a 27-second knockout loss to the aforementioned Williams the lone outlier. Matthews, 26, extended his latest winning streak to three fights on Sept. 26, when he was awarded a unanimous verdict over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez at UFC 253.