UFC Fight Night in Auckland tomorrow night. 7 p.m. on ESPN+.
Philadelphia’s Paul Felder has won five of his last six fights and is looking to keep that run going when he travels halfway around the world to fight Dan Hooker on his home turf in New Zealand. Hooker has won six of his last seven and gets the hometown treatment out there.
That’s the tough part, but the positive to note is that Felder, aka “The Irish Dragon,” has done well fighting in foreign countries previously, pulling off wins in Adu Dhabi, Glasgow, and Halifax. He beat a Scot in Scotland and fought a Brazilian in Brazil, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for the Ridley High School alumnus.
This is a solid matchup between the #6 and #7 ranked lightweights, and while the winner won’t be getting a title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov, they should enter the conversation for a matchup with a Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, or maybe even Conor McGregor if he wants to come back to 155 after fighting Donald Cerrone at 170. That depends on how badly Conor wants the Khabib rematch, and if he’s willing to take a fight before Khabib and Tony Ferguson meet up in April.
For Felder, it’s sort of a make or break moment in his career. He’s 34 now, and this is a chance to push himself into the upper tier of lightweights, which includes three guys who are absolutely world class. His only loss during the recent stretch came at welterweight, a fight he took on short notice, so he’s actually won five in a row at 155.
Felder is at slight disadvantage when it comes to height and reach in this fight. Hooker will have an edge at range, but Paul is a really solid clinch fighter and throws some nasty elbows up close. Both guys are good on the ground, and would not be uncomfortable there. Neither has fought a five-rounder before, so we’re kind of in the dark when it comes to predicting what championship rounds might bring us, but this one definitely won’t be boring. Both guys like to throw and definitely aren’t gonna sit around trying to feel each other out for five minutes. They have great chins and can take a tremendous amount of damage.
I’ll leave you with the clip of Felder’s last fight, which was a controversial split decision win over Edson Barboza. Should give you a good idea of his style if you’ve never seen him fight: