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UFC 242: Khabib vs. Poirier - Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder II Toe-to-Toe preview

Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder II for UFC 242, and everything you don’t about the physics of the Speed bus.

Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder II co-headlines UFC 242 this September 7, 2019 at the The Arena, Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

One sentence summary

David: There’s only room in this town for one Spinning Shit

Phil: Spinning Shit 2: Whirligig Boogaloo


Record: Edson Barboza 20-7 | Paul Felder 16-4

Odds: Edson Barboza -155 | Paul Felder +135

History / introduction to the fighters

David: Barboza is a classic If Only type fighter. You love the foundation: speed, power (overstated, but still), action, etc. He has so many of the tools to be dynamic, and yet there’s something static about what ends up transpiring. If only he’d defend more sensibly. If only he had more spatial awareness. If only he had Panama Lewis in his corner. Et cetera. As is, Barboza is an action fighter — a properly basted burger that’s just missing the right blend of chuck. He fills an awesome, delicious need, but missing some essential nutrients. And yes, I’m totally here to hawk Emma + Ollie’s fantastic burger I recently had in Fredericksburg, TX. [Editor’s Note: Dear Mookie, please let Phil and I do a US vs. UK Toe-to-Toe burger review]

Phil: Barboza combines the traits of the best action fighters: clear and violent strengths, equally defined weaknesses, and a complete inability to give a shit about the consequences of the latter. Sure, he can get run into the fence and beaten up, sure that was how Jamie Varner beat him back in his first major loss, and yes, that’s how he’s lost basically every fight since, but the man just will not give up, or sit out for easier style matchups. Justin Gaethje? Sign me up! A chance to lose one of his better wins by having Felder take it back? Edson Barboza will sign on the dotted line.

David: Felder has carved out a new niche in the fighter market with his foray into color commentary. He’s kind of good at it, and better yet, has found a way to hack fighter pay without begging for those patented “50 G’s” which is at least better than a burner phone. Or a shield. Anyway, while Felder has been donning the suit, he’s been quietly successful. He knocked out a Lloyd Irvin apologist, and hasn’t dropped many fights since his first bout with Barboza. His quality of competition has been lacking, but his game remains unique, effective, and professional.

Phil: I genuinely enjoy Felder on commentary! The man comes with an appealing mixture of realism, technical insight, and a profound love for elbow and knee-based violence. It’s also been a pleasure to watch his recent run of success, which has only been disrupted by a loss to Mike Perry which was (a) a super-close loss against a decent welterweight on short notice (b) also at least partially due to Felder breaking his arm early. Other than that, the Irish Dragon has been coming into his own.

What’s at stake?

David: There are not many rangy, 360-violent pugilists, so whoever loses will end up being more of a novelty than a primetime gatekeeper, but they’re both a lot of fun so I’m here to watch them punch responsibly for as long as they can, and not end up losing in bar fights.

Phil: When Barboza has a bad loss, it often seems like he might be headed for a skid that sends him out of the rankings, but he always turns it around with another great performance. In general he’s paid his dues, and people will always turn up to watch.

Where do they want it?

David: Barboza is a fighter of consistent, confident flow moving forward, and erratic, irresponsible violent moving backward. When he’s pressuring, he’s borderline elite with some of the most heinous leg kicks in MMA. His boxing isn’t what you’d like to see at his size. It’s gotten better, but he still prefers to feint and push with his left jab which keeps him from being more a dynamic threat with his hands. His overhand right has some wicked acceleration (something he used to great effect against Ross Pearson), and he’s developed a nice, chopping lefthook. Outside of that, a lot of his pressure comes from bouncing around for various leg kicks from his strong and weakside. Nothing much has changed over the years, except for some slight adjustments on the feet. He’s able to attack more often from angles in the pocket, as he did against Pettis, but he what he is at this point: a dangerous, physical specimen with a consistent rhythm and style, but little in the way of fight vision and tactics.

Phil: Barboza is sort of like the inverse of the bus from Speed: if he starts moving beyond a certain speed, he simply detonates. Specifically, if he moves from his careful, small lateral positioning into a deadly sideways gallop, he loses all defensive posture and can’t throw back any strikes aside from simply sitting down and flailing. If this doesn’t happen, and he never breaks into the Barboza Gallop, he is a genuinely lethal mid-range striker: while he lacks power, he can slip and slice with the jab, left hook and a pretty array of body punches, and his kicks are just too fast for most opponents to block. While he has improved in terms of his comfort and execution, there are still some areas of the fight where Barboza just doesn’t get much done. He’s not comfortable in the clinch, or in any kind of grappling exchange, and because he’s not a particularly durable or physically robust fighter, he can get trapped in those spots for extended amounts of time.

David: Where Barboza has a specific flow, Felder is a creature of outbursts. He’s the punctuated equilibrium to Barboza’s gradual evolution. He prods, and pierces from a distance with front kicks, and spinning roundhouses. But then he likes to close the distance with step-in elbows, right hooks, and whatever else he can do creatively to open up entries. Despite all of his fight of the night bonuses, he’s not overly active. He won’t threaten with combinations, but there’s a stillness, and sense of timing that turns what could be a merely eccentric approach into something momentous. Part of what helps Felder’s efficiency is that unlike Barboza, he’s not confined to his striking. Felder does yeoman’s work in the clinch, and is willing to nab takedowns to dictate the pace.

Phil: Paul Felder reminds me a little of his fellow lightweight Scott Holtzman: both came to similarly well-rounded games from very different directions, both were tough athletes without much official combat sports training who had to fight at a high level very early in their careers. As such, both have developed somewhat defined “MMA Native” approaches. Felder is a distillation of certain MMA trends- a good striker, with moderate aggression, who does everything reasonably well without being particularly stand-out in any area. He has a good counter left hook, and a surprisingly deep takedown game, favouring back-takes and elbows from top position. It’s all very modern MMA meta. The problems are typically around pace and speed- he’s somewhat plodding on the feet, and when called to pressure often finds himself happier exchanging power shots on the feet at a moderate clip, until he can get himself into the clinch and bully his opponent around a bit.

Insight from past fights

David: I remember thinking Felder deserved the slight nod over Perry despite losing momentum as the fight wore on. One thing he won’t have to worry about is getting suplexed by Barboza. Even though Felder is on record as saying he was too aggressive in the first fight, I feel like that’s his best chance to beat Barboza. True, Barboza has been beaten by technique as much as he’s been beaten by violent pressure, but here’s the thing — Felder isn’t great at building the midgame. He doesn’t close the gap with the kind of offense that will neutralize Barboza. While I agree he’s added nuance to his game, I don’t think it’s enough to trap Edson if he’s not linking his range attacks with those shark-tank, phone-booth battles. He’s gotta make it black and white. Either he’s all in on getting in Edson’s face like Justin Gaethje, or he’s comfortably pecking away like Michael Johnson.

Phil: Their first fight was interesting in that it showed how much Felder has changed, as well as how much he’s stayed the same. He’s still a bit of a plodder, but almost every area of his game has tightened up since. Whatever happens, I think the new, professional Felder doesn’t start just wading forward trying to pull Barboza into a dogfight. I think he comes with something clever and sticks to it. The James Vick gameplan (push him into the fence) has some similarities, although it did unfortunately involve long stretches of time at kicking range.


David: Just the usual with fighters that like to rotate to attack: headbutts and nutshots.

Phil: Man, the one that Barboza landed on Felder last time was an absolute beauty. 360 degrees of spinning testicular devastation. I will say that Barboza has absorbed incredible amounts of damage lately, and lost his last fight to a fairly uncharacteristic OHKO.


David: I’m sticking with Barboza for reasons I mentioned in the Insights section. Felder’s the better fighter, but it’s not the better matchup for him. I can easily see him simply catching Barboza. I can see some grinding out a decision victory. I can see him wearing down Barboza in the clinch. But I can’t see him beating Edson at his own game, which is where I predict the fight will take place: in the center, and at range. Edson Barboza by Decision.

Phil: I was impressed by Felder’s decision-making and gameplanning in the Vick fight. He’s always been a strong analyst, but it never really came through in the cage until that fight. So there’s a clear path to victory against Barboza. However, I’m still dubious of how much Felder can stick to that approach: Barboza is faster, more diverse and higher paced at the range that both men like to fight. Edson Barboza by unanimous decision.