Paul Felder believes that UFC 223 was the “craziest week” of his fighting career.
In the span of a few hours on Friday, “The Irish Dragon” went from being on the verge of getting a title shot, to being removed from the Brooklyn card entirely.
By the end of the day, his scheduled opponent for the event, Al Iaquinta, was given an opportunity to step in to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov after Max Holloway’s eleventh hour withdrawal.
It initially looked as though Felder’s Roufusport teammate, former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, would step in to face the Russian. As soon as Felder knew that Pettis wasn’t in contention for the bout, he put himself forward knowing he had registered championship weight.
“What did I have to lose? Fighting for the belt would have been an easy transition for me, especially after making 155 even,” Felder told Ariel Helwani on the latest episode of The MMA Hour.
Felder revealed how he was told that the New York State Athletic Commission wouldn’t allow him to contest a championship bout because he was not officially ranked by the UFC.
“So as far as I knew, they were working on it, there were talks with everybody and then I get a text, ‘What are you ranked?’ I said, ‘Well, UFC doesn’t have me in their top 15, but I’m ranked 14-to-16 in most rankings outside of the official one.’
“And then [NYSAC] said no. And then they were still negotiating and I was told to hold tight again. They wanted to give it to me as far as I knew, but the New York Athletic Commission said I wasn’t ranked high enough.”
He added, later: “I was told the commission said, ‘Absolutely not, he’s not ranked high enough.’”
After the event, NYSAC executive director Kim Sumbler told MMA Fighting’s Danny Segura that Felder was never presented as an option by UFC as a replacement for Holloway.
Felder is adamant that his manager was in talks with the NYSAC at one point with regard to taking the main event slot and insisted that he would have been granted the opportunity to fight Nurmagomedov if the fight had of been taking place in Las Vegas.
“I have no idea; I have no idea what’s going on. You saw how it was, you saw it was all over social media. We were even talking back and forth when I thought I was being considered,” Felder explained.
“I know that my manager was talking to these people about possibly getting put in there. Whether or not I was told some BS, or they’re saying BS because they’re trying to cover their ass because they’re making too many stupid decisions that are inconsistent and make zero sense…if this fight was in Vegas I would’ve had the fight.
“With that commission [NAC] who have been doing this forever, I feel like I slide right in there. I made the weight. There would have been no problem or controversy over anything. If I had won that fight I would have won it fair and square. Khabib wins that fight, he beat somebody that made the weight and there’s no controversy whatsoever.”
The lightweight assumes he will never know the truth about how close he came to fighting Nurmagomedov.
“You’re talking about a life-changing moment for me. If that is the reason, and as far as I know it is…we’ll probably never know. Realistically, at this point we’ll probably never know about everything that went on that week. I could’ve been fighting for a world title on Saturday night and instead I’m sitting here in my house on a Monday morning with this incomplete feeling,” he said.
After the disappointment of UFC 223, Felder hopes the UFC will make amends by giving him main event billing for his next outing.
“If they want to make it up to me they could find someone that wants to dance five rounds with me, that’s really all I want,” Felder said.
“I gained a lot more press and fans based on wanting to step up all over Twitter and my name was getting dropped everywhere, so hopefully I can get a big push for a small show.”