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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 168’s Paul Felder

Aggressive kickboxer, Paul Felder, will take on fellow knockout artist, Dan Hooker, this Saturday (Feb. 22, 2020) at UFC Fight Night 168 inside Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.

Don’t look now, but Felder is making his title run.

The Philadelphia native pretty much jumped into the deep end of the Lightweight division when he first joined the roster back in 2014, establishing himself as an extremely tough out. He also suffered some losses in that time, which have proven effective learning experiences from Felder, who has really figured out his game in the last couple years. “The Irish Dragon” has now won five of his last six bouts against a higher level of competition. His career has really built him to this point, and it’s time to discover just how high his ceiling stands.

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 current run, 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.

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 — something Dan Hooker does as well!

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). In this week’s technique highlight, we break down some of Felder’s hand traps.

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. Most recently, 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.

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.

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.

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

Felder doesn’t seem to have the singular masterful skill or insane athleticism required to become a champion in a division like Lightweight. That’s okay, though, because Felder is a damn tough, hard-nosed veteran giving it everything for even a chance to contend. Whether he reaches that lofty goal or not, his performances and improvements have been admirable.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 168 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 168: “Felder vs. Hooker” 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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