Less than 24 hours ago, Paul Felder didn’t even know if he’d ever step foot inside the UFC cage again – but Saturday, he’ll do just that.
Accepting a five-round fight against a former UFC lightweight champion on five days’ notice isn’t common practice among MMA fighters. However, Felder (17-5 MMA, 9-5 UFC) will take on Rafael dos Anjos in the UFC Fight Night 182 main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas – a bout he accepted Monday after Islam Makhachev’s withdrawal.
“I thought about it and I decided with everything going on in the world and all the sad things going on in people’s lives and losing their jobs and suffering and we just lost Alex freaking Trebek to pancreatic cancer, I was like, ‘Man, you know you’re still 36. You’re young. You’re in shape. Save the date. Let’s go get paid. Let’s have fun. You’re fighting a legend,’” Felder said in an interview with ESPN on Monday. “What do I have to lose?”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Felder. Usually walking around at around 200 pounds, Felder slimmed down in recent weeks preparing for a triathlon. While he’s not in lightweight territory yet, Felder revealed he has to cut between 14 and 23 pounds before Friday weigh-ins.
“I’m well under (180),” Felder said. “I’m in the 70s. I’ll give you that. I’m in the 70s. With some time and water-loading and dehydration, I’ll be fine.
So why not take a catchweight? Both Felder and dos Anjos (30-13 MMA, 18-11 UFC) have competed at welterweight in the past, though they reside mostly at 155 pounds. According to Felder, dos Anjos was focused on making his mark at lightweight and made it a set-in-stone stipulation the fight would take place there.
“I think he really wants to be fighting the top guys at 155 to make his comeback and give himself a chance,” Felder said. “… Obviously, we talked about catchweights. But I know with main events, if possible, they like to keep it at the weight class. That was one of the things, ‘Do you think you can make it?’ It’s not going to be fun, but I’m going to make it.
Unlike many other last-minute main event changes, Felder vs. dos Anjos remains five rounds. Felder indicated he enthused by the decision to keep the fight 25 minutes.
“I like five-round fights,” Felder said. “If you’re going to do a main event, I want to do it right. That’s what he’s been scheduled to do. Yeah, five rounds. I’m excited to do another five rounds especially with somebody like RDA. This is an experience. We’re going to see. My brain is fresh. My body is fresh. I’m not taking beatings in sparring like I normally do but I’m still staying technically sharp and staying very fit, so we’ll see.”
Having openly contemplated MMA retirement recently, Felder views the situation as no-lose. The opportunity to further his brand is there, should he win – and the risk, should he lose, is low.
“I know I’m nearing the end of my career soon,” Felder said. “This, I think, it’s win-win for me because if I go in there and I can finish and beat RDA, a former champ, then it gives me a lot of selling points to be getting these bigger fights which seem to be alluding me at the top five of the lightweight division here in the UFC. How do you not give me something big after this if I go in there after stepping up? And if it doesn’t go my way, then I saved the day. I’m going in there to try to win, so we’ll see.”
According to Felder, there’s a greater chance he retires from MMA competition with a victory than a loss. A win allows him to sail off into the sunset, whereas a loss will reinvigorate his need to prove himself.
“I say 50-50 (this is my last fight),” Felder said. “. … I was thinking about that. What a way to just be like, ‘Boom. Mic-drop.’ So yeah. (The odds of retirement) probably do (increase), actually. They probably do increase. If I lose, then I might want to have to get back in there for one more. It might eat away at me just like the (Dan) Hooker fight did. I was ready to move on and then it’s like, you still haven’t proven quite what I’m capable of.”
UFC Fight Night 182 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas and streams on ESPN+.