You know what we here at the CME say about how you know when a fighter retirement is legit, don’t you? Wait five years. Paul Felder has made it about six months so far, and already it seems like he may be toying with the idea of hitting the undo button on his retirement announcement from earlier this year.
We should note, it’s difficult to know yet how seriously he’s considering this. Based on Felder’s comments in this short video posted to co-commentator Brendan Fitzgerald’s YouTube page, sounds like he might be still in the Just Saying Stuff phase of it for now. But it also sounds like the saying stuff is coming from genuinely thinking about stuff, which maybe shouldn’t surprise us since Felder has always seemed like a thoughtful dude.
Here’s how he put it when talking to Fitzgerald and Laura Sanko from the UFC Apex, where he was calling those Dana White Contender Series fights this week:
“I feel like since the triathlon season has slowed, and there’s not a lot of races, I’ve really had a chance to reflect on that it’s over, that I’m not fighting anymore, and I’ve missed it tremendously. I started hitting pads, I started doing stuff. That’s not to say that I’m making some comeback, but I’m definitely gonna go home, I want to train with Sean Brady and the guys a little bit. I wanna see how I feel after a week of training with somebody like Sean Brady, Jeremiah Wells, Pat Sabatini, Andre Petroski, these guys who are all Philly guys in the UFC, (have them) kick my ass, and we’ll go from there.”
There’s a lot going on there, even in a relatively brief, somewhat off-the-cuff statement, so let’s dig into it with a close reading and see if we can’t discover whether this is a good or terrible idea.
“I feel like since the triathlon season has slowed, and there’s not a lot of races…”
OK I’m going to stop you right there, just for a second, because what it suggests is that if the triathlon schedule was more robust year-round maybe we wouldn’t even be having this conversation? Which feels … telling in some way. But go on.
“…I’ve really had a chance to reflect on that it’s over, that I’m not fighting anymore, and I’ve missed it tremendously.”
Now there’s something I’ve heard from a lot of fighters over the years. You know what he’s really talking about? The void. All your adult life, you were focused on this one thing. It was more than just a job – it was an identity. It was the unchanging, permanent answer to the question: what am I going to do today? You’re going to try to become a better fighter is what. You’re going to take further steps toward beating whoever it is you signed to fight next. Simple. Then that’s gone, and maybe at first it feels good and right. No more hurting all the time. No more of the fight game’s exploitative bullshit. Then some more time goes by and you wonder, wait is this thing really gone forever? Because that’s a lot longer than it seemed at first.
“I started hitting pads, I started doing stuff.”
Yep, that’s how it starts. Bet the triathlon stuff started with just going for a couple runs, riding the bike around the block. Now look. Think maybe you might have one of those personalities that naturally takes things to the extreme?
“That’s not to say that I’m making some comeback…”
Bro, the video began with Fitzy over here saying, “What’s with this comeback stuff?” The video on YouTube is entitled: “Is Paul Felder making a comeback to the UFC?” Seems hard to believe he just pulled that out of nowhere and then turned the camera on to catch you unawares.
“…but I’m definitely gonna go home, I want to train with Sean Brady and the guys a little bit. I wanna see how I feel after a week of training with somebody like Sean Brady, Jeremiah Wells, Pat Sabatini, Andre Petroski, these guys who are all Philly guys in the UFC, (have them) kick my ass, and we’ll go from there.”
Okay by the end we’re in shoutout territory but this is actually the smart way to approach it. You feel good hitting pads? They don’t hit back, but your gym buddies who are active pro fighters sure do. Go do that for a while and see if it still seems like a great idea to get back into that life. And hey, maybe it will. But I remember a retired fighter who once told me that every time he thought about a comeback he’d go to pro practice at American Top Team, just to remind himself what it would really take to do it. Then he’d go back home sore and aching from the beating he’d received, but with peace of mind. For a while.
Felder would go on to say that he’s not in the USADA testing pool but thinks he could jump back in and get an “expedited” clearance that would take less than six months, since he hasn’t been out of it long. Also sounds like his mom would support him if he really wanted to but maybe his partner is less convinced it’s such a great idea. But then he gets to talking about his weight and bringing the science of his triathlon training over to MMA and damned if it doesn’t sound like maybe he’s already made up his mind.
Is it a bad idea? Really depends why he’s thinking about coming back and what he hopes to get out of it. Not trying to be a jerk or anything, but 37-year-old Paul Felder is not going to become UFC champion at this point. And unlike most fighters, he actually has steady work as a commentator, which he is very good at and could conceivably continue doing for years and years.
So is it just about filling the void? Is it about trying to put some distance between himself and that ‘oh shit it’s really over’ feeling? Because if so, brother, best you can hope to do there is delay that stuff. But it’s still going to catch up with you eventually.
Maybe he really thinks there’s a few good fights left in him. And maybe he’s right. Maybe he thinks leaving anything in the tank would be worse than the pain and suffering of being absolutely, completely sure that it’s all the way empty. That can, of course, go way wrong. But then that was always part of the bargain and he knows it.
One thing I can say for sure is that if UFC matchmakers put Felder back in that cage it better not be with some 27-year-old killer they’re trying to build up. Don’t you do it. You fuckers. If Felder is to fight, let him fight a peer. A fellow gentleman of a certain age. And on sufficient notice. If you do that human sacrifice thing you usually do with older fighters, after all he’s done for you? Well, we might not forgive you.
(Photo by Anne Marie Fox/HBO Max)
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