UFC 242

UFC 242 Live Streaming is almost here, and as usual, Embedded is here as well. The show that gives you an inside look at the marquee contestants on PPVs has issued the fifth episode for this weekend’s big show in the Abu Dhabi, and it serves as a brief introduction to the fighters at the top of the card.

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We start off at Ultimate Media Day. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev are playing with rubiks cubes. Khabib is smelling all the baked goods he can’t have for 20 hours because of the weight cut. Khabib and Barboza shake hands as Dana White shows up.

Zubaira Tukhugov and Lerone Murphy talk about their bout. Same with Andrea Lee and Jojo Calderwood. Curtis Blaydes thinks he’s close to a title shot. A few more face-offs. Felder said he was devastated by the loss in his first fight with Edson Barboza. They square off. Barboza says it’s going to be a crazy fight.

Dustin Poirier and Khabib face off respectfully. They overlay some comments from each man.

We skip ahead to the official weigh-ins. Khabib and his entourage show up. Khabib needs the towel but makes weight. He’s off to go sleep. Poirier is good to go at 155. He’s excited. Barboza makes weight too. As does Felder. He looks the most exhausted of the four.

And that’s it! UFC 242 goes down in a few short hours in Abu Dhabi.
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.

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