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How UFC's Short-Notice Call Pulled Paul Felder from the Brink of Retirement

Tom TaylorContributor INovember 13, 2020

Paul Felder, celebrates a win against Daron Cruickshank in their mixed martial arts bout at UFC Fight Night 81, Sunday, January 17, 2016, in Boston. Felder won via third round submission. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Paul Felder was mid-way through a routine treadmill session when he received a career-altering FaceTime call from his manager.

The No. 7-ranked UFC lightweight contender knew what the call would be about before he even answered: UFC needed somebody to replace Islam Makhachev against Rafael dos Anjos on just five days' notice, and the promotion had targeted him as a suitable candidate.

Accepting a short-notice fight against Dos Anjos, the former lightweight champion, would require some serious consideration under ordinary circumstances, but for Felder, the decision was particularly complicated. The Philadelphia native, who now moonlights as a UFC commentator and an actor, had been considering retirement for some time and wasn't sure he wanted to fight again at all—let alone fight Dos Anjos with less than a week to prepare.

"I was probably closer to out than back in," Felder told Bleacher Report on Thursday, saying he was leaning toward retirement before the offer to fight Dos Anjos came in. "It was just a very frustrating time in the division. I didn't feel like I was getting talked about the way I should have been.

"I was just kind of upset and frustrated and almost ready to move on."

After a long shower and some careful consideration with his coaches and nutritionist, however, Felder decided to accept UFC's offer.

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"When I got the call, it felt the stars were aligning in a very strange way," he said. "It felt like if I turned it down, it would very much be one of those things where I'd be like, 'What if? What if I had taken that fight? What could have happened?' And if it doesn't go my way, I have no regrets. I took it. I lived dangerously and I went for it."

Once he had accepted this short-notice showdown, which will be contested over five rounds at 155 pounds, Felder dove head-first into the chaotic vortex that is a condensed fight camp.

"The next day, I packed everything up, did an hour-long [stationary] bike-ride in my garage, then flew out," he said.

Now in Las Vegas, and some 36 hours out from his fight with Dos Anjos, Felder is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task at hand. He believes that Dos Anjos, contrary to his recent losses to Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman, Leon Edwards and Michael Chiesa, is still as lethal as ever.

"He's dangerous," Felder said, sizing up his foe. "I've always had a ton of respect for him. I was in the front row when he knocked out my really close friend and teammate, at the time, Donald Cerrone. I know how ferocious he can be.

"I don't judge anybody in the UFC because they've had a few losses. When you're fighting the best guys in the world, that's going to happen. That doesn't mean you're not one of the best in the world."

Despite the praise Felder has for Dos Anjos, and the short time he's had to prepare for the matchup, he's optimistic that he'll find a way to come out on top Saturday. If he's able to do so, he believes the rewards could be plentiful.

Felder has long desired fights with the best lightweights in the world, but he has found them elusive. He believes that a win over Dos Anjos could propel him into those marquee matchups—particularly with the division's reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov ostensibly retiring.

"We've got to see what happens with our champion, Khabib," Felder said, sharing his thoughts on what a win over Dos Anjos could do for his career. "If [Khabib is] out, then I think there's a much more realistic path to me getting that title shot with all these strikers in front of me. If I can get guys like [Justin] Gaethje, [Tony] Ferguson, [Dustin] Poirier, even Conor McGregor, these are all guys that are strikers, and that gives me much more of a chance to showcase my skills and get through those top guys.

"With a win [over Dos Anjos], the door is open to the top five and potentially a title shot."

While Felder speaks with great enthusiasm about what a win over dos Anjos could do for his career, the reality is that he's also still considering retirement. In fact, he may decide to hang up the gloves even if he's victorious this Saturday.

"I'm getting older," the 35-year-old said. "This is a sport where you've got it till you don't, and that happens overnight. You might be like 'I still got it,' and then that switch can be flipped so fast, and before you know it, you're in fights where you don't need to be taking damage you're taking.

"Guys will go back and back and back, and get knocked out, knocked out, knocked out, and ultimately that's what really damages you," he added. "I don't want to get to that point where I pushed it too far. I want to go out still looking good, even if it's off losses. I want to go out looking strong, and on my own terms."

Suffice it to say that Felder is no more certain of his fighting future than he was in the moments before his manager's phone call interrupted his treadmill session earlier this week. He can't promise more fights, and he can't promise his retirement—but he does feel confident this next fight will be a fun one.

"There will be blood—probably mine," he said with a laugh. "I can't tell you where my head will be at after till Saturday night.

"If it goes really well and I feel fresh, maybe I make some call-outs. If it doesn't, maybe we see what's next."