It was February 2020 when fan-favorite Paul Felder first broached the idea of retirement. “The Irish Dragon” left his gloves in the Octagon after a split decision loss to Dan Hooker in Auckland.
Felder did take on a short-notice fight in November against former champion Rafael dos Anjos, which he also unfortunately lost by split decision. During Saturday’s UFC Vegas 27 broadcast, the number nine-ranked 155-pound contender decided it was finally time to walk away from the sport.
Felder had a chance to talk to the media after the event and explained the factors that led to his decision.
“I don’t think I’m gonna get to the belt,” he said candidly. “I think this is the first time where I finally really think, like, after those two losses in a row, watching guys like Jacare break their arm, watching guys like Cowboy fight five more fights past when I think they should.
“And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to be that guy.’ I’ve said from the very beginning of this sport, I won’t be that guy that fights past his expiration date. And I think it’s here.
“I think maybe it’s a touch early, but I’d rather be a touch early than a touch late.”
Felder revealed signing a new contract, which he said was a very favorable one. But along with it came new realizations about no longer having the same passion for the sport he’d competed in for the last nine years.
“I got a new contract I haven’t even got to fight on yet,” he said. “So this shows you that this isn’t an easy decision and it’s not like I wasn’t getting the things I want… That’s when you know it’s time.
“After that RDA fight, they took my contract which still had three more fights on it, they threw it out and said, ‘here’s your new one.’ And it was a good one. It’s one I’ve always wanted, or at least close to it.
“Obviously, if I keep winning fights, it’ll get better. But whom am I gonna fight? Who am I gonna fight right now? There’s plenty of guys below me that are amazing. Islam Makhachev, Diego Ferreira, Gregor Gillespie… Yeah, they can probably beat me, I can probably beat them. I’m not excited about it. Tony Ferguson, three-fight losing streak, not excited about that. Don’t wanna do that.
“I don’t wanna do a week in the hospital, breaking my orbital, breaking my face, puncturing a lung. More scars and cuts than I can even count. I don’t want that anymore.”
Felder recalled the exact moment in training when he was absolutely sure it was time to hang it up.
“If I couldn’t get to the gym, an MMA gym, to either hit pads, grapple, spar, do something, I would lose my freaking mind,” he said. “And I have not been in an MMA gym in probably three months. And then before that, it might’ve been one pad session where I did five rounds, and then I was like, ‘I don’t feel like doing this.’
“That spark that I need to fight, especially the way I fight, it just wasn’t there anymore.
“The only reason that it took this long is because I really gave everybody a chance to kind of convince me. And the UFC was really patient with me and really good with me. Sean Shelby called me several times, had a conversation with me to see where my head was at.
“We had this conversation twice now, recently, and then the second one I finally called them back the other day, and I was like, ‘I’m retiring on Saturday. I’m done.’”
He may not have been able to reach his ultimate goal, but what legacy does Paul Felder want to leave behind?
“Somebody who had zero quit. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.”
The 36-year-old Felder holds notable wins over Edson Barboza, James Vick, and Charles Oliveira, to name a few. Throughout his six-year UFC run, he’s won three Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night honors apiece.
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