Justin Gaethje let it be known last weekend that he wasn’t happy with how the crew on UFC Philadelphia’s post-fight show on ESPN+ seemed to be goading him into a fight with ESPN broadcaster and fellow UFC lightweight Paul Felder.
Although Gaethje downplayed the incident afterward, not wanting it to steal away shine from his sensational first-round knockout of Edson Barboza that evening, the 30-year-old lightweight contender did explain on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour that the main gripe he had with the situation was an issue of professionalism, or lack thereof. UFC Philadelphia was his moment, and he felt like the crew was trying to redirect his momentum to help Felder at a point in time when he barely had a enough distance from the fight to wrap his own head around what he had accomplished just minutes earlier.
“I just think it was an unprofessional move on Paul’s part,” Gaethje said on The MMA Hour. “I think he knows that. He’s there in a different status than me. I was a fighter that night and he was an employee or a staff member, and I was just really caught off guard. I didn’t even know what was happening until, like, the second time, I think when (ESPN broadcaster) Karyn (Bryant) brought it up and I was like, ‘oh.’ I bet that was probably like 17 minutes from the moment I stepped out of the ring, probably less than that … at least 15, whatever.
“But dude, I’m telling you, I hadn’t seen the fight. From the moment they tell you that you have about four minutes until you’re going to go into that hallway to make that walk to the Octagon, that’s the last time you get to kinda process anything. And then after that, win or lose, it’s over. You can’t process anything. It’s a million miles an hour, a thousand words a second, you’re trying to take in everything, trying to not miss specific things, trying to do interviews, trying to make the decisions that you need to make to not sound like a fool.
“It’s some crazy emotions that you’re running through, so you have to control your emotions and all that stuff.”
Gaethje handled the awkward interaction ably enough, dismissing Felder with a biting one-liner — “You don’t want that to happen to you.” — before switching the topic to his pursuit of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Likewise, Felder explained his side of the story then moved past the issue without much disagreement.
But while Gaethje has similarly moved on, he noted that UFC Philadelphia was actually the second time in a row that he and Felder have run into the same issue — in his previous role as a color commentator at UFC Lincoln, Felder conducted the in-cage interview with Gaethje following Gaethje’s first-round knockout win over James Vick.
“Now, after the fact, that’s two times in a row [that] he’s gotten that opportunity,” Gaethje said. “He got to think about it for, like, who knows how long he thought about it, asking me those two questions on those two nights. I didn’t get one second to process that, and he got probably like three weeks to go over that. I don’t know, whatever. So yeah, it’s just not fair, for one, and it’s not what I’m there for.”