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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 14’s Paul Felder

Knockout artist, Paul Felder, will go to war with former Lightweight champ, Rafael dos Anjos, this Saturday (Nov. 14, 2020) at UFC Vegas 14 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Felder is a badass — the man was semi-retired and training for a triathlon, but when opportunity called, he answered. On less than a week’s notice, he’ll step into the cage for a 25-minute fight with a former champion, one who thrives on overwhelming and fatiguing opponents in gritty wars. Felder must be confident in both his strength and conditioning, otherwise he’s walking into a painful night.

There’s a lot to gain and a lot to lose! Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

There has been a fundamental shift in Felder’s approach to kickboxing, and it’s really paid off. Previous to his recent fights, the Taekwondo and Shotokan Karate black belt would fight as a distance kickboxer, looking to stay at range with his opponents. He has some great weapons from there (namely, his kicks), but Felder has proven far more effective as an aggressive bruiser who stalks opponents.

There are several reasons for Felder’s increased success while focused more on moving forward. For one, it’s a style that lines up well with his physical gifts. Felder is a large Lightweight, seemingly impervious to damage. He eats huge shots extremely well and fires back hard blows in return.

UFC 191: Pearson v Felder Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In addition, Felder simply isn’t the sharpest boxer. Felder will jab occasionally, but it’s always a means to an end, a method to cover distance and land his right hand. I have yet to see Felder establish a jab and keep an opponent at bay. It just isn’t his style nor his intention, but that issue did previously lead to problems against men like Ross Pearson.

In terms of punching, Felder is all about the left hook and right overhand. With both punches, Felder tends to do a nice job of dipping his head off the center line. He has some tricks, like “cheating” his left hook by bringing the right foot forward and exploding into the strike.

Luckily, Felder isn’t trying to be a boxer. He has the option to reach out and grab his opponent’s gloved hand, making things ugly and bringing us to the world of elbows (GIF). Felder has a lot of tricky elbow setups, from hand-fighting into a glove pull and elbow over-the-top to intercepting his opponent’s combinations with an upward middle through the guard.

UFC 182: Castillo v Felder Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Few men spin quite as often as Felder. He does so in many situations. Most famously, Felder landed a huge spinning backfist opposite Danny Castillo by using the punch to reset his stance as Castillo attempted to counter a kick (GIF). He’s done that several times now, but Felder will often spin into an elbow as a counter to the jab (GIF). Lastly, Felder will suddenly follow up his right hand or left hook with a spin if he’s a bit off-balance, which can allow him to continue the combination and catch his opponent off-guard.

Despite my assertion that Felder is a better pressure fighter than range kickboxer, Felder is an excellent kicker. The man whips both shins with bad intentions at all targets, and he’s just as willing to spin from this range.

There are two techniques that stand out in this portion of Felder’s arsenal. For example, he turned to the calf kick to ruin James Vick’s night. In all likelihood, that strike was the deciding factor in an otherwise fairly close fight, as Felder really did damage to Vick’s lower leg and made him much less comfortable in throwing out his jab.

Against Dan Hooker, Felder spent the first half of the fighting getting kicking in the calf and outpointed before he remembered his own calf kick. Once Felder started chopping into his opponent — usually using his left hook as setup for the right low kick — the tide began to turn.

It hasn’t come into play in a while, but Felder also has an excellent intercepting knee for when opponents (usually wrestlers) try to pressure him. On paper, it’s fairly simple, as Felder lifts his lead knee as his opponent moves into the strike. However, Felder’s timing with the blow is excellent, and few strikes serve as better deterrence to forward pressure and level changes (GIF).

Wrestling

Felder is a solid example of just how much size matters in wrestling. Aside from the intercepting knees, Felder rarely does anything special to defend against the takedown, but he’s pretty consistently able to deny shots or scramble back up because he’s strong and determined.

Offensively, Felder hasn’t scored a takedown since 2016, a pair of much-needed double-leg takedowns against the fence in a gutsy performance against Daron Cruickshank. Once more, physicality goes a long way when both men are bloody and fatigued.

UFC Fight Night: Felder v Cruickshank Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

When Felder has gained top position (usually via face-punching), he’s proven himself a tremendously violent man. Against both Charles Oliveira and Stevie Ray, Felder was able to pretty brutally end the fight by framing his foe’s head into the mat and then using that newly created space to drop massive elbows (GIF).

The lesson here is clear: don’t let Felder gain posture if beneath him!

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, Felder is not the most active submission fighter. However, when he really needed it, his grappling experience came through. In his aforementioned bout with Cruickshank, Felder was down two rounds heading into the third, but he was able to throw Cruickshank down, jump on his back, and choke him.

UFC 218: Oliveira v Felder Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

More impressive than strangling Cruickshank, Felder is one of very few men to survive tangling on the mat with Charles Oliveira. In the first round of their bout, Felder found himself trapped in Oliveira’s signature anaconda choke for much of the round. Oliveira tried to finish the choke from several positions, but Felder consistently worked to drop his elbow, giving him a small bit of breathing room.

Once more, size and strength help quite a bit.

Conclusion

dos Anjos is a strange opponent for Felder, as it’s not clear that a win over “RDA” actually moves him closer to the title in 2020 and beyond. However, it’s more about the moment itself, the willingness to jump on a 25-minute main event at the literal last second is a badass, and if he can pull off the win too, it will certainly pay off.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 14 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 14: “Felder vs. dos Anjos” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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