Philadelphia’s Paul Felder once attended the University of the Arts in the hope of one day becoming an actor. But now, having taken to mixed martial arts while on campus, Felder is better known as an exciting UFC lightweight contender with a professional MMA record of 13-3.
This Sunday (July 16) in Glasgow, Scotland, the 33-year-old fights home hero Stevie Ray at UFC Fight Night 113. Before that, though, Felder spoke with Fighters Only’s Tony Reid and told him all about the acting world, his good friend Donald Cerrone and the moment he saw a rattlesnake get shot six times.
Q: You put the artist in mixed martial artist, having attended The University of the Arts for acting, and you worked in theatre groups in and around Philadelphia for a long time. We sit here talking about you as a UFC fighter, though. So when did you know you wanted to fully commit to making that transition?
Paul Felder: There kind of was a moment like that. It goes way back to before I gave up the acting altogether. I debuted as an amateur (fighter) but only took the fight to see if I could do it. I have been a martial artist my entire life, though. It is one of those things that you just have to do as a lifelong martial artist – really compete at a level or in a situation where you are really feeling punches and you are looking for a knockout. The amount of adrenaline and excitement I got when that fight was over…
I remember being at a U Arts house party later that week and telling my friends outside as we were chilling and drinking. I said “I think I have to do that… forever. I have to do that again. Acting is fun but that is ridiculous.” All my friends were like, “No, shut up. You are an actor. That was cool, you won. Let it go.” Slowly but surely, though, I kept going back to it. Then when I went pro, finally. I just wanted to make a run at it. Then I started winning over and over again and had so much fun doing it I decided to give up the acting for a while.
Q: During that transitional period showing up for acting gigs with busted lips, noses, black eyes, did you ever have a legitimate Fight Club moment while juggling those two pursuits?
PF: There were a few times when we were rehearsing a show and I would show up with a huge black eye from a head-butt or something like that. It looked like I put eye shadow on. I had bruised lips, swollen lips, my cauliflower ear would blow up and I’m supposed to be playing these parts that would never have a cauliflower ear or black eye in a million years. I would have to put make-up on to cover my bruises for the show. The directors said I couldn’t be fighting while I was doing a show. I said “Ok, I’m just not going to be doing this stuff while I’m fighting.”
Q: You are a Philly boy but have been more of a cowboy recently, working with ‘Cowboy’ Donald Cerrone and spending a good bit of time on the ranch. Can you give us a quick ‘Cowboy’ ranch story?
PF: Not the last time I was out there but the time before, when I was getting ready to fight Danny Castillo, we were all out there and one of the UFC camera crews was filming Donald. He went up to get a shot of the mountains and the sunset and the scenery in Edgewood, New Mexico. It just looked amazing. As he was up on this little hill there is a rattlesnake right in front of the guy. We are all freaking out; everybody is freaking out. But ‘Cowboy’ just walks into the house, grabs a revolver and goes out and blasts this rattlesnake six times with the revolver. He kills it. We drag it into the gym on the cement floor and just watch it writhe around and slowly die as we were training over the next hour or so. That is just a little sneak peek of life on the ranch.
Q: You two have formed a strong bond. Can you talk about the true cowboy Donald Cerrone is in day to day life?
PF: That’s the thing about Donald. That is how he is every day. He’s not a bullshit artist. He’s not full of crap. He is really like that. He can’t sit still for five minutes. That’s really how he is. When he wants a fight, when he wants to do this or that, when he takes on a new project – wakeboarding, skydiving, scuba diving – that’s just his personality. He’s been like that since he was a kid. He’s just a wild man.
Q: I saw recently you were watching Rocky and drinking some Onnit coffee to get motivated. I think with your acting background, your fighting background and the fact you are a Philly guy, you can relate more to that movie than just about anyone.
PF: I don’t usually do that. I was perusing through Netflix, drinking my coffee and watching some Rocky movies. Rocky, even though it’s a movie, features a Philly guy who has overcome the odds. I feel like I have done that ever since I started my professional career. People have confidence in me now but I think, early on, most fights people thought, “Oh, he’s good but he’s going to lose this one.” When I fought my debut in Canada, people thought I was going to get taken down and beat. People thought when I fought Danny (Castillo) that I was going to lose due to the step up in competition.
Q: If you could choose one fight from your career that every MMA fan should see, which one you choose and why? Would it be the Danny Castillo fight?
PF: Absolutely not. It definitely wouldn’t be the Danny Castillo fight. Those fights don’t define you. Those are the ones that go the way we want them to. You get paid, you move up the ranks. But a fight that defined me for sure was my fifth pro fight. I fought this kid, Corey Bleaken, and he was a division three wrestling champion. The first punch he hit me with completely shattered my nose in the first minute of the fight. I had to have plastic surgery after the fight. I was swallowing blood the entire fight. I was spitting blood everywhere. I cut him and he was bleeding everywhere. We went three rounds and I had to push harder than I have ever had to push in my entire career. I won. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way in that fight.