Paul Felder’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer a week before his son’s fight camp got underway for Sunday night’s lightweight bout against Stevie Ray at UFC Fight Night 113.
Despite his great loss, a grieving Felder took off for Roufusport in Milwaukee, where he ate, slept and trained for his meeting against one of Scottish MMA’s favorite sons.
Getting back to basics with his approach, Felder claimed that his isolation and his immersion into his preparation has made him hungrier than ever.
“I’m still sleeping in the gym,” said Felder, shortly after arriving in Scotland.
“I like the solitude. It gives me a lot of focus, spending this much time in the gym. There are no distractions. I don’t have any family around. My only goal is to train to get better and fight.
“I’m cooking off a hot plate over there. I’m watching all these kids train and seeing their passion for combat sports. I can get involved with any of the classes I want and that’s been really helpful too.
“I nearly feel homeless,” Felder continued. “I have all my stuff scattered over a futon. I’ve been doing my laundry in the back room of the gym. It’s like training in Thailand. The fight is all you think about.
“It makes you want to earn some money and go back to your family.”
Understandably, Felder is still coming to terms with the loss of his father. “The Irish Dragon” watched as his patriarch’s condition declined on a daily basis and was present when he eventually passed away.
“He was on hospice and I literally watched him die every day,” Felder said. “I was there when he finally went. I felt like his passing was a way for him to tell me that it was time to go and do my job. He was at peace, finally.
“It’s surreal to me still. I’m sure it will really sink in on the night of the fight when it’s all said and done.”
With the death coming so close to the beginning of a stringent camp, Felder has carried his father with him as he has prepared for his bout with Ray. On Sunday night, he plans to pay tribute to the man who made it possible for him to pursue mixed martial arts as a career.
“This is a tribute to him,” Felder said. “As I’ve said in all of my media, I’ve been wearing his ashes on a necklace throughout the week. He’s been with me the whole training camp. He’s been on all of those trips with me — Vegas, LA, and now Scotland.
“He’s going to make that walk with me too. I’m gonna take the necklace off and hand it to my brother before I step in the Octagon. He’ll be in my corner for the first time ever for this fight.
“He’ll give me that reminder every time I look into my corner. When I think of my father, I think of my older brother.
“My father worked his ass off his whole life. He took sh**ty jobs until he eventually settled into a career. He made a lot of sacrifices for me so I could be the man I am today. He is the reason I do what I do.”
Ray is very happy that he has an assignment like Felder in front of him. With free agency looming for the Scot beyond Sunday night, he believes Felder’s style is one that guarantees fireworks, which will allow him to make a bigger statement should he have his hand raised.
Felder, on the other hand, is adamant that this is the worst time that Ray could have picked to face him.
“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Yeah, I want that fight,’ but he should talk to some of the guys I’ve fought before,” Felder said. “He should ask them if they want these elbows and these knees again. My sparring partners get angry about it and those guys are my close friends.
“I’m going in there to kick the living s**t out of him. It’s for me, it’s for my Dad and it’s for my brother.
“I don’t care about the crowd. I don’t care about Stevie Ray’s free agency situation — that’s all on him. I think he’s a good guy and a hell of a fighter, but I’m here to smash him.”