Paul Felder has a blunt response when asked about having his back up against the wall heading into this weekend’s matchup with Daron Cruickshank in Boston on UFC FIGHT PASS.
“If this is the last fight I ever have, people are going to remember it; that’s what I’m telling you. If it’s my time to be cut, #$%$ it, but you’re not going to want to after I’m done in the cage, win or lose.”
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It doesn’t get more honest and straightforward than that.
This time last year, everything was aces for the Philadelphia native – he was coming off a blistering knockout win over Danny Castillo at UFC 182 and instantly became everyone’s “Fighter to Watch” in the lightweight division. A perfect 10-0 with back-to-back wins in the UFC, he was a star-in-the-making: an articulate, good-looking, entertaining fighter that was about to be given a chance to make a quick climb into contention in the deepest division in the sport.
Today, Felder is 10-2 and riding a two-fight losing streak into his meeting with Cruickshank that serves as the featured UFC FIGHT PASS prelim this Sunday at the TD Garden.
In July, he traded punches and kicks with fellow Muay Thai stylist Edson Barboza in a bout that earned Fight of the Night honors, but cost Felder his unbeaten record. Eager to get back into the win column, he jumped at the chance to face veteran Ross Pearson six weeks later, only to come out on the wrong side of a split decision against the former Ultimate Fighter winner.
“Those are two fights that I thought I won, so that’s even more frustrating,’ he says of the setbacks. “At the time, when you think you’ve done enough and it kind of gets ripped away from you – it’s one thing if you go in there and a guy KOs you or submits you with some sick choke or armbar and you can be like, ‘That guy got me.’
“But (losing the way I did), it leaves more of a sour taste in my mouth and I kind of blame myself because I lost a split decision and a close decision, so it’s like, ‘What am I not doing? Where am I not pulling the trigger?’ Coming into those two fights, I had a lot of knockouts and a lot of finishes, so why haven’t things gone that way? Why wasn’t I able to get those guys out of there?”
While Felder is quick and correct to point out that the competition is much steeper now that he’s fighting on the biggest stage in the sport, he also doesn’t shy away from admitting that some of the hype prompted him to stray from what got him to the UFC in the first place and has forced him to change up his preparation in advance of this fight.
“Sometimes when you get on a win streak, you think, ‘Well, the evolution is to go and do this.’ I kind of got pushed to the front of the line fast in this sport – two fights in and people were talking about me like, ‘He’s going to be the next this or that.’ I let that influence me a little bit and let it boost my ego a little bit.
“Now I’ve taken a step back, living in Philly, training with the guys I used to train with. I’m still working with the BMF Ranch and (Donald) Cerrone and all them as well, but definitely getting back to some of the things that got me to where I am. Now I feel like a savage. I can’t wait to get in there.”
And he’s got a matchup that he likes, which should be the case, considering he put the fight together himself via Twitter.
“I very nicely asked Daron Cruickshank what he was doing in January and we got the fight put together,” Felder laughs. “I knew he was looking for a fight – I saw that on Twitter – so I hit him up. I was like, ‘Yo buddy – let’s go make a lot of money together and put on the Fight of the Night. It’s a no-brainer with me and you that it’s going to be exciting, even if it’s 10 seconds long.’
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“I want to fight a guy like him. Just because I’m coming off a couple losses, I don’t want to fight a guy that nobody has heard of yet because God forbid I lose to that guy, I’m definitely on the chopping block. I lose to Daron, at least he’s been around for a while. He’s coming off two losses himself, so I think it’s going to be fireworks, to be honest.”
In a strange way, Felder is back where he was in late 2014, before the fight with Castillo, before the spinning back fist and the hype and the sour taste of close decisions falling the other way took over his taste buds.
“If people remember, I was scheduled to fight Johnny Case in Boston at this time last year and I got taken off that card to fight Danny instead, so this is my second chance to fight in front of the Boston crowd who love anything Irish, so I think it’s a great way for me to start the year.
“This all feels right to me; it should be fun.”