Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight strikers James Vick and Paul Felder will collide this Sunday (Feb. 17, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 1 from inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
A hugely impressive 9-1 run inside UFC’s most competitive division saw Vick begging for a shot at a highly-ranked foe, resulting in his first main event slot opposite Justin Gaethje. The Texan failed to live up to the moment, however, looking quite sharp for maybe a minute before being flattened by the first strike his foe landed.
Vick needs to bounce back in a major way here.
Meanwhile, Felder has been trying to make this fight happen for some time — even talking about fighting Vick while commentating on Vick’s fight! — but odd circumstances have trumped his efforts. It’s finally happening, though, and it’s a good chance for Felder to re-establish his position as a top Lightweight after a one-off loss at 170 pounds.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Joseph Duffy (UFC 217), Francisco Trinaldo (UFC Fight Night 126), Jake Matthews (UFC Fight Night 65), Polo Reyes (UFC 211)
Key Losses: Justin Gaethje (UFC Fight Night 135), Beneil Dariush (UFC 199)
Keys to Victory: Vick is perhaps the largest fighter at 155 pounds. He’s definitely one of the tallest and longest, attributes Vick uses quite well, if a bit strangely. On his feet, Vick is a mix of sharp boxer and high-volume kicker, combining clean punches with a wide array of random kicks that are difficult to counter given his length.
It’s easy to write off Vick and his kickboxing after the loss to Gaethje, but anyone who knocks out a fighter as skilled as Joe Duffy with a counter uppercut is no joke.
In this bout, I’d like to see Vick really focus on establish his range. After his recent loss, there’s little doubt in my mind that Felder will attempt to crowd him and catch him standing tall with an overhand. Felder certainly hits hard enough for that to be a threat, but that’s not “The Irish Dragon’s” usual approach, so Vick should make him pay for attempting it.
At distance, the jab and Vick’s straight kicks will be hugely useful. If Felder is forced to move forward through fire, it will exhaust and bloody him. Vick’s conditioning and volume are already important advantages, and they only grow the more often his kicks land to the mid-section, legs or forearms.
Key Wins: Charles Oliveira (UFC 218), Stevie Ray (UFC Fight Night 113), Danny Castillo (UFC 182), Daron Cruickshank (UFC Fight Night 81)
Key Losses: Francisco Trinaldo (UFC Fight Night 95), Edson Barboza (UFC on FOX 16), Mike Perry (UFC 226)
Keys to Victory: Felder is a violent, violent man. The Taekwondo and Shotokan Karate black belt makes great use of his traditional martial arts background at range, but his specialty is elbows. Whether in the clinch, on the ground, or as a counter strike, Felder has finished each of this three most recent victories via elbow.
As mentioned above, Felder probably wants this fight to take place inside the pocket, if not closer. There is a risk of him getting chewed up as he moves forward, which is why Felder has to close distance intelligently.
First and foremost, cutting off the cage properly is huge. If Felder simply follows his opponent around and trades kicks — which he did at great cost opposite Edson Barboza — he’ll never get inside of Vick’s long arms. Felder has to stay in front of Vick and limit his taller foe’s options.
In addition, I’d like to see Felder look to clinch or wrestle to close distance. Now, he has to be wary of Vick’s guillotine, but ending up in the clinch would be a great result. Felder’s elbows from there are brutal, and catching Vick breaking away with his hands low is a real possibility.
Bottom Line: It’s a confirmed BANGFEST between fringe contenders with bad blood and plenty on the line.
At No. 10 in the world, Vick has more to lose here. A second consecutive loss, one to an unranked foe no less, would send him spiraling down the ranks and probably out of the Top 15. It took Vick nearly 10 victories to get to this position — the Texan does not want to lose it so quickly. The plus side, at least, is that Vick can work toward getting back into contention with a win here.
Felder had real momentum before the Perry loss, briefly ranked for the first time and on the heels of a trio of knockout wins. Luckily, after a couple opportunities to jump up in competition fell through — first against Al Iaquinta and later against Vick himself — this fight worked out anyway. At 34 years of age and given his other career as a commentator, this may just be Felder’s final chance to break into the ranks and go on a title run.
At UFC on ESPN 1, James Vick and Paul Felder will finally meet in the co-main event. Which man leaves Phoenix with a victory?