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September 23, 2016

The Q&A ... with Philly UFC fighter (and trained actor) Paul Felder

UFC MMA
092316_Felder-Paul_AP Gregory Payan/AP

Paul Felder celebrates his win over Daron Cruickshank at UFC Fight Night 81 back in January.

On Saturday night, Philly native Paul Felder will try to accomplish something that's eluded him since he joined the UFC back in 2014: winning three fights in a row.

Felder (12-2; 4-2 in UFC) won his first two fights, including one of the best knockouts you'll ever see, before dropping two in a row late last year. But the 31-year-old lightweight bounced back with a pair of victories over Daron Cruickshank and Josh Burkman.

His reward? A date with Brazilian Francisco Trinaldo (a.k.a. "Massaranduba") on his own turf. The two lightweights face off in Brasilia on Saturday night as part of the main card at UFC Fight Night 95. But Felder wouldn't have it any other way.

Ahead of the bout, the fighter-slash-actor, who trained at the University of the Arts in Philly, spent some time talking to PhillyVoice for a Q&A about embracing Brazilian fans, fighting for his infant daughter, training with champions, and, of course, his love of "Stranger Things." 

Is this your first international fight?

“No, it’s not. My UFC debut was in Halifax, Canada, and I fought a Canadian there and I won that fight. This is obviously the furthest I’ve been. I mean, Halifax — especially from the East Coast, from Philadelphia — is like a two hour flight. And everybody speaks English, so not a big deal. So this is the first time really fighting internationally.”

Does it feel different?

“You know what, it honestly doesn’t. Once you’re in the hotel and the crew’s here and the fighters are here, it’s the same business. I cut my weight; I train with my team; we show up, I do interviews; I’ll make that walk Saturday night, I’ll have my gloves on, and we’ll throw down. It’s just different when we’re wandering around. Other than that, there’s no real changes. It’s still the UFC, just in a different spot.”

What kind of atmosphere are you expecting?

“Chaos. [Laughter] Chaos. The guy [Francisco Trinaldo] is a local favorite. I expect to get booed; I expect people to throw sh*t at me. I expect everything that you could possibly not want, but I plan on embracing it.”

You seem like the kind of guy who would almost enjoy that. You plan on using it for motivation?

“Yeah, why not. I mean, this is just another crazy thing on my bucket list. I’m fighting a Brazilian in Brazil. For the UFC. You know, I’m going to look back at this when I'm like 60 years old, talking to my grandkids like, ‘You know what I did when I was 30 years old? You know what I did? I flew into Brazil and fought this dude on his own turf, in front of thousands of people.’ You just have to remember that. 

"I have to keep reminding myself, ‘You’re living the dream.’ You can’t let this — and it will be what it will be on Saturday night. I plan on winning; I plan on putting a hurting on him. But I’m prepared for everything.”

So he’s got a few years on you. Is that something you’re hoping to use to your advantage?

“People have brought it up. You know, you’re actually the first person to bring that up in a while. But no, I don’t think so. I think maybe he got into it a little later; he seems to be in shape and a young 38. That’s older, but I’m going to try to exploit him anyway, whether he’s 38 or 28. So I’m trying not to let that influence me, you know what I mean.”

What’s your overall strategy going to be? Stand up and fight? Take him to the mat? It looks like he packs a pretty powerful punch…

“Well, not getting punched in the face early by him is definitely part of the strategy. But really, just trying to make him miss and make him pay.”

Do you compare him to any guys you’ve fought, especially recently?

“Just a bit. He’s a bigger guy and so was Josh Burkman — he was a former welterweight and I think Massaranduba was too. They both pack a big punch. Burkman’s sort of know for not being the best technical boxer, but he’s very strong and very powerful. And they both have the ability to grind you up against the fence. I think Massaranduba is different, but he’s also the same in some ways. He goes southpaw, Burkman’s a southpaw. And they both throw big punches. And random kicks, they’re both similar in that way. Trinaldo just might be a little more savvy in the boxing department.”

You’ve won your last two fights. What would it mean to get your third in a row, something you haven’t yet done since joining UFC?

“It would mean a lot to me, man. I’m really trying to prove to everybody that I am what people think I can be. It’s very discouraging and kind of painful when people really see you and think, ‘Wow. Shit. This guy could be something very legit.’ And then they immediately dismiss you because you have a couple losses. And that hurt. It took a while to get over when people were immediately like, ’Nah, he’s all hype and he’s not as good as we thought he was.’ It’s like — it’s the type of sport where you get thrown under the bus really quickly. And I realized that and I kind of learned to grow a thicker skin here in the UFC, but it took a couple of fights. 

"So going on a three-fight win streak is kind of — more importantly, it puts me in a better spot with my family and taking care of business for what I need to do. Really, honestly, at the end of the day, that’s all I really care about. We’re paying rent, we have our car, my daughter is eating. That’s really it. Rankings and things like that are awesome, but that comes second. Maybe getting a No. 15 next to my name is the second thing I would like to get.”

I know you have a young daughter [named Aisling] — I’m not exactly sure how old she is — but looking over your fights, have both of your recent wins been since she was born? Like, are you undefeated since having her?

“No, it’s funny you say that. That would’ve been a good story. I lost my first two after having her [after winning my first two UFC fights]. So I think it’s done two things for me: I think it was a worry on my mind when she was young and I think it was a lot to deal with and I was away from home and I was missing her for the first few months of her life when I was getting ready for those fights. When I fought [Edson] Barboza, she was only a couple months old. So I’m training with a newborn at home, keeping me up [all night]. It was tough.

“And now that she’s older, I think it’s more motivation. She’s comfortable, we’ve got a spot, my girlfriend [Christine] is taking care of things. It’s been much easier. I can FaceTime her and she can say ‘Daddy’ and things like that. Where before, it was like, you know, when you have a kid, especially for the first time, you’re overwhelmed by that. So I took my first two losses, just stayed at home for a little bit, a couple months, and then I’ve been on a two-fight win-streak since.”

Since the last time I saw you, both you and [lightweight champ] Eddie [Alvarez] are undefeated. Even though you’re in the same weight class, has it been cool to watch his rise?

“Oh, yeah. It’s been crazy watching that whole team. Since that fight [against Daron Cruickshank in January at UFC Fight Night in Boston], I’ve started training with those guys. I started training with Eddie, training with Edson and Frankie [Edgar] and Marlon [Moraes] and all those guys up in New Jersey. And Nick Catone at his spot; he’s one of my cornermen now. 

"So I’ve been splitting my time between Daniel Gracie and Nick, and it’s helped so much. Daniel’s been keeping me sharp and keeping me powerful with basic MMA stuff and very good on the ground. And Nick, you know, he’s got his influences from Mark Henry with strategy and code words. And then, obviously, on top of that all, watching these guys going out and winning — I’m sparring with these guys everyday — it gives you a lot of confidence that I’m in the room with the lightweight champ, the No. 5 ranked guy, the No. 1 or 2 featherweight in Frankie. You know you’re surrounded by studs and it does help with confidence.”

As an outsider, it’s kind of hard for me to tell, but when you’re sparring with these guys and training, is it clear that you have a ways to go to be able to, say, compete with Eddie? Or is it something else that doesn’t manifest itself until an actual fight? Like, do you look at them and go, that could (or should) be me?

“No, man. And that’s what’s crazy about this sport. I think at this level, everyone is doing the things they need to do, it’s just a matter of who can find that little bit, that little extra, to be better than the other guy. The top 10, 15, 20 guys in the UFC, they’re all freaking good. Everybody is there for a reason. So you see — maybe mentally more than anything — ‘What do I have to do to be the champion, to go those five rounds?’ It’s nice to have a champ in the room, to have former champs in the room. It helps keep you clear and keep you focused.”

Ok, now on to some lighter things — I know you camp probably started around the same time as the season was getting ready to start, but have you been watching the Eagles at all?

“Yeah. You know what’s crazy? I watched the first game and that was awesome, but I also watched the Monday night game here in Brazil. It was on ESPN here in Brazil. So I watched it with guys commenting in Portuguese, but I don’t need to know what they’re saying; I can watch football and know what’s going on. That was cool. I got done a late training session and then got to watch the Birds go 2-0. It was awesome.”

Given your background in acting, I feel like I almost have to ask you this. Any good TV shows or movies you’ve watched lately?

“Man, the coolest thing, I think, I just watched: ’Stranger Things’ on Netflix.”

I was really hoping you were going to say that. I love that show.

“It’s so good, man. So good. I crushed it so quick, and then that was it. The season was over. I was like, ‘No. I need more of this now. I need more.’”

And all those kids, it was just impressive.

“They’re so good. So good. I was really impressed with all those kids.”

I remember I was up to the last episode, the finale, and almost didn’t want to watch it because I knew once I did, it was over.

“Yeah, you want to save it. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to save that one.’”

What about ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘The Night Of’ or any of those shows?

“We’re just moving from an apartment into a smaller house in Fishtown, and we’re just now finally getting cable. We’ve just been living off Netflix for the last year. So I’m finally going to get to start watching some of that stuff. There are too many good shows out there — obviously when I’m cutting weight, I need to be watching for network or something. So we’ll be working on some of those. Hopefully when I get back [from Brazil], the girlfriend has it all set up.”

What’s the kid’s TV theme song that if you hear one more time, you’re going to jump out of a window? Like, your daughter wants to hear it, but one more time might just make you snap…

“Oh, god, ‘Elmo’s World.’ [Humming/singing] Da-na-nana da-na-nana Elmo’s World. If I hear — because we play her the same episode so she can learn all the stuff — oh my god. There’s the banana one that makes me want to jump out a window. And the eating one. There’s an eating one that teaches kids all about foods and oh, god, it’s killing me.”

So you alluded to this earlier, but has having a daughter changed your mentality as a fighter?

“I would say that before her, it was probably more of just, ‘Man, I’m doing some crazy stuff and this is awesome. I’m a pro fighter, and I make a little money, and we go drinking after, and it’s a party.’ Because when it was just me and my girlfriend, that’s what we did. Now, it’s like, ‘Man, I’ve got to win so I can make thousands of dollars so I can go home and we can do stuff and make sure [our daughter’s] got what she needs.’ It’s definitely much more — it really starts to feel like a job. A job I love, but a job. And I want to keep that job, and that means winning fights.”

Thanks a lot for the time. Any last words you want to get in before this fight?

“I just want to thank everyone, especially back in Philadelphia — I really hope the support for guys like me and Eddie keeps getting stronger. And I just want to thank everybody that’s helped me along the way and everybody that’s watching me. I do it for them. I do it for the people that care. And I get more disappointed by the losses in my career because I feel like I’m letting my fans and family down. So just know that I am busting my ass for everybody back home.”


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin