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UFC 223 card: Al Iaquinta vs Paul Felder full fight preview

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Iaquinta vs Sanchez Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight scrappers Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder will throw down this Saturday (April 7, 2018) at UFC 223 inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Iaquinta has spent the better part of the last three years debating with UFC on the merits of paying him more, but he finally returned to the Octagon last April. It’s been another year, and Iaquinta will return to defend his Top 10 ranking in what will hopefully be more than a one-off fight. While Iaquinta was away, Felder put together the best win streak of his career so far. “The Irish Dragon” scored a trio of stoppage wins in 2017, and now he’ll look to advance into the title mix.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory:

Al Iaquinta
Record: 13-3-1
Key Wins: Jorge Masvidal (UFC Fight Night 63), Ross Pearson (UFC Fight Night 55), Joe Lauzon (UFC 183), Piotr Hallmann (UFC Fight Night 30)
Key Losses: Michael Chiesa (TUF 15 Finale), Mitch Clarke (UFC 173)
Keys to Victory: Iaquinta is a clubbing bruiser with slick pocket boxing and a strong wrestling background. Seven of his career wins came via knockout, including four of his last five wins.

Of the two men, Iaquinta is a bit more well-rounded. He has the ability to mix takedowns into his offense, and while Felder is a good counter wrestler, his skills there only tend to shine against men who are solely looking to take him down.

Iaquinta will be dropping hammers as well, which will make the shot far easier to hide.

Aside from the potential to land takedowns, Iaquinta would be wise to make use of combinations to the head-and-body. Extended combinations will take advantage of Iaquinta’s boxing advantage, and mixing shots to the body will only be beneficial in slowing down Felder over the course of the fight.

VS.

Paul Felder
Record: 15-3
Key Wins: Charles Oliveira (UFC 218), Stevie Ray (UFC Fight Night 113), Danny Castillo (UFC 182)
Key Losses: Francisco Trinaldo (UFC Fight Night 95), Edson Barboza (UFC on FOX 16), Ross Pearson (UFC 191)
Keys to Victory: Felder is one of the larger Lightweights on the roster, a physical presence in both wrestling and striking exchanges. Recently, Felder really seems to have found his groove, doing major damage at range, in the pocket with elbows, and in top position (also with elbows!).

In this bout, denying the pocket at range will be a big key. Both men like to strike, but they excel in different areas. Felder tends to do good work with long kicks and in close — areas where his size are really effective — whereas Iaquinta excels in the pocket, getting his head off the center line and dropping heat.

To make Iaquinta’s life difficult, Felder should be stabbing kicks up the middle and making it difficult for Iaquinta to close distance. In addition, if Iaquinta is slipping his head off the center line, Felder can meet him with round kicks. Styming that head movement with kicks would be huge for Felder. If Iaquinta is less willing to slip and roll, he’ll be far more vulnerable to Felder’s step in elbows.

Bottom Line: Ladies and gentleman, we have a fight on our hands.

Aside from the fact that this will be an excellent stand up battle that either man could win, it’s a really important match up in the careers of each fighter. Iaquinta is once again returning from a long layoff, looking to prove he’s still one of the world’s best. Meanwhile, Felder is looking more dangerous than ever, but it’s a step up in competition that Felder has historically struggled to climb.

For “Raging Al,” victory highlights the fact that a top Lightweight is wasting his prime years on contract disputes, which really sucks. Unfortunately, a loss will likely drop him down the rankings significantly, as he’s without any recent high-level victories.

Felder has struggled at this level before, but none of that matters if his win streak grows to four. Defeating Iaquinta will introduce Felder to the rankings and give him a good deal of momentum for his next contest. Alternatively, defeat locks him in place, making it more difficult in the future to climb forward.

At UFC 223, Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder will open the main card. Which athlete will earn the victory?