Paul Felder was just trying to survive. The seconds were ticking down in his UFC Phoenix co-main event fight with James Vick. Felder believed he was winning on the scorecards and, as the end of the fight loomed, he was just trying to stay up right.
That’s when Vick landed a nasty knee to the body that changed the course of his next few weeks.
“As soon as he hit me, I was like, holy shit, that was a hard knee,” Felder told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “And I knew it was like 20 seconds left, I was looking at the clock. I thought I was ahead. I was like, ‘Man, just don’t let this dude knock you out, just don’t let this dude knock you out.’ Literally all I was thinking.”
Felder said he felt the effects immediately, but wasn’t sure of the severity at the time.
“I knew I busted my ribs is what I thought,” Felder said. “I thought i did some cartilage damage or maybe had like a little fracture.”
After the unanimous decision victory result was read, Felder did multiple interviews. He started getting shorter and shorter of breath as time went on. While walking to the post-fight press conference, he said the UFC doctor stopped him and said he should really go to the hospital to get checked out. Felder listened — and good thing he did.
The prognosis? A partially collapsed lung due to a puncture.
“That’s when things got a little scary,” Felder said. “That’s when I realized I wasn’t going home the next morning.”
Felder, 33, is still not home in Philadelphia, though the UFC flew his family out to Phoenix to spend time with him. He’s out of the hospital now, but can’t fly until Wednesday.
The injury happened due to a bubble in his lung, which Felder said he was told was not uncommon for taller men around his age who are athletic. The bubble usually doesn’t have any repercussions unless the person who has it is in a car crash — or, in this case, a hard-fought MMA fight. When Vick’s knee landed, it caused the puncture and the lung collapsed on itself 15 percent.
Felder (16-4) said the first treatment was sticking tubes into his chest that created suction that pulled the air surrounding the lung around the lung itself. The hope with that procedure is the lung fills and sets on his own.
Doctors tried that for two days, Felder said, and it didn’t work. That’s when he needed legitimate surgery. Doctors had to cut through the muscles of the rib cage and through bones to staple the puncture and pin his lung to the interior of his chest. The surgery disturbs the surface of the lung, causing a great deal of pain.
“It’s the most pain I’ve been in in a really, really, really long time,” Felder said.
The rehabilitation process is not too bad, though. Felder said he can begin doing cardio, swimming, running and hitting mitts within a couple of weeks. Felder said doctors will let him know when he can get back to contact training. But he said he doesn’t think this will take as long as something like a shoulder or knee tear.
There’s a light at the end of the horizon now after a scary few days. The positive is that Felder beat Vick, executing the exact game plan that was laid out by his coaching staff led by Duke Roufus. Felder kept Vick running and very effectively chopped down his lead leg.
That was the kind of performance against the caliber of opponent that Felder wanted. He’s now won four of his last five fights with the only loss up at welterweight against Mike Perry in a fight in which he broke his arm.
“I told everybody before this that I belonged in the goddam [lightweight] top 10,” said Felder, who is also a top MMA broadcast analyst. “I fought the guy nobody wants to fight, even though he’s coming off the loss to Gaethje. He got exposed a little bit there that he’s a little chinny. But I didn’t even beat him that way. I didn’t catch with that one quote lucky shot. I beat him at a game that nobody thought I could beat him at. And that’s going to decision with somebody and showing that I’ve got the intelligence to hang with the best guys in this division.
“That’s what you’re gonna see more of from me. You’re always gonna see me fight my ass off. You’re gonna see a little more strategic approach now that I’m gonna be up there with the real big dogs in this division. But I’m coming for them, I’m telling you that right now. I’m not in this to sit back. I’m in this to make a run for the belt and that’s it. When that’s done, if that doesn’t seem plausible to me anymore, I’m retired.”