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UFC on FOX 15 fight card: Paige VanZant vs Felice Herrig fight preview

Paige VanZant and Felice Herrig will collide this Saturday (April 18, 2015) at UFC on FOX 15 inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In a battle of top contenders, what adjustments must be made for either woman in order to claim victory? Find out how below!

Esther Lin/MMA Fighting

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) strawweights Paige VanZant and Felice Herrig will battle this Saturday (April 18, 2015) at UFC on FOX 15 inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

With just four fights under her belt, VanZant burst into the UFC with a technical knockout win last November. The strength of that performance -- along with a certain "it factor" -- has earned VanZant a position inside the top 10 and curtain-jerker status on this FOX event.

Herrig is a veteran strawweight and has fought many of the best fighters in the division. After a pedestrian showing on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, Herrig will look to build some momentum by derailing VanZant.

Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both fighters.

Paige VanZant

Record: 4-1

Key Wins: Kailan Curran (UFC Fight Night 57)

Key Losses: Teccia Torres (Invicta FC 4)

Keys to Victory: VanZant is one of the best prospects in the division in large part thanks to her athleticism. The 21 year old pushes an intense pace and wears away at her opponent, which has resulted in two straight finishes.

For this bout, VanZant needs to apply heavy pressure on Herrig at all times. While their skills match up pretty closely, VanZant's aggression and pressure can really turn the tide in her favor.

Since Herrig's best aspect is her kickboxing, VanZant should look to force her opponent into the clinch. In her last bout, VanZant was both active and effective inside the clinch with a wide variety of strikes ranging from elbows to foot stomps.

In addition, the clinch is likely VanZant's best path to scoring a takedown. Once VanZant gets on top of her opponent, she's pretty nasty with ground strikes. Plus, VanZant's non-stop ground and pound largely keeps her safe from submission attempts, as her opponent must focus on staying tight defensively.

Not only is this likely VanZant's best route to a finish, but the threat of the clinch and takedowns will make Herrig more hesitant in her stand up. If Herrig is afraid to commit, VanZant will probably have the advantage in the clinch as well.

Felice Herrig

Record: 10-5

Key Wins: Lise Ellis (TUF 20 Finale), Heather Jo Clark (Bellator 94)

Key Losses: Tecia Torres (Invicta FC 7), Carla Esparza (XFC 15)

Keys to Victory: Herrig comes from a fairly extensive kickboxing and Muay Thai background, though it has only resulted in a single knockout victory in mixed martial arts (MMA). While her wrestling could use a bit of work still, her submission game is pretty dangerous.

For Herrig, this bout should be about punishing VanZant's attempts to close the distance. If Herrig is able to maintain her distance, she should have the technical kickboxing advantage.

VanZant very much likes to swarm her opponent, but that is risky from a defensive stand point. As VanZant pushes forward, she's vulnerable to counter punches. If VanZant eats a few straight, hard punches on the way in, it could discourage her.

In addition, VanZant got thrown from the clinch a few times in her last fight. Whenever VanZant is successful at forcing Herrig into the clinch, Herrig could quickly attempt a takedown. Should she land it, "Lil Bulldog" is in good position to threaten with submissions.

Bottom Line: No one is really sure who the next strawweight contender is. A match up between two top 10 fighters who are both marketable? There's a decent chance the winner of this fight ends up in the cage opposite Joanna Jedrzejczyk, or at least in a title eliminator bout.

This is a major bout for VanZant, who's already well on her way to becoming a star. The Reebok-sponsored athlete is still quite new to professional fighting, but she's made her talent clear already. If she takes out a proven gatekeeper like Herrig this early on, it says great things about her future in the sport.

Alternatively, a loss for the Team Alpha Male product would mean a step back in competition for the near future. Considering her youth and relative lack of experience, that wouldn't be the worst thing, but VanZant's immediate title plans would have to be put on hold.

While it's pretty clearly established that Herrig cannot best the top of the division, this is a strange time to be a strawweight. Since the champion has only fought three of the women currently in the UFC and her weight class, the time to score a big win and leapfrog other contenders is now.

If Herrig does fall to VanZant, that chance evaporates. While it wouldn't be impossible for Herrig to eventually earn a title shot, it would require quite a bit more work and a lengthy win streak.

At UFC on FOX 15, Paige VanZant and Felice Herrig will go to war. Which woman will have her hand raised?

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