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Paul Felder believes win over Edson Barboza finally puts him on a path towards title contention

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Paul Felder
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paul Felder has a lot going on these days.

In addition to his favorite job playing dad to his daughter, the 35-year old Philadelphia native has become a top analyst and color commentator for the UFC, which is not to mention his aspirations of landing more acting roles after graduating from the University of the Arts in his hometown back in 2008.

On top of all that, Felder happens to be a top-10 ranked lightweight with a co-main event showdown against Edson Barboza this weekend at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.

Now just because he has a lot of oars in the water doesn’t mean Felder is losing sight of what’s most important because he will be the first to tell you that fighting is his first priority when it comes to his career and nothing would mean more to him than finally feeling UFC gold wrapped around his waist.

“That’s all I want,” Felder said about his title aspirations when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I’m not a kid. I’m not young anymore. I feel great. I’m not using my age as an excuse like I’m all beat up or anything but I’ve gotten to a point in my life and my career where I have other venues and options where I can make a lot of money and do a lot of things.

“I can get back to acting now that I’ve been back out there a little bit. I can do more television. The only reason that I’m fighting is seeing if I can get my shot at the belt and become champion.”

Getting a co-main event slot on the same card where the lightweight title is also up for grabs doesn’t hurt Felder’s chances to finally get mentioned among the best of the best in the division.

“At this point in my career, I’m trying to move forward and make big strides towards the belt or making a whole lot more money,” Felder stated. “Obviously getting a co-main [event] on such a big card with Khabib [Nurmagomedov] as the headliner, there’s so many lightweights on the card, it can really make me stand out if I have a really good performance.

“That’s all I’m looking for otherwise I don’t care. I’m not going to be some prelim spot on a Fight Night somewhere. It’s not something I need to do at this point in my career. I can wait for bigger fights or not fight.”

Felder has won his last four fights in the lightweight division including a trio of blistering knockouts to start getting the recognition he deserves. He even tried to get a last second title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov last April after Nurmagomedov’s original opponent Max Holloway was pulled from the card over health concerns leading to the event.

He then suffered a broken arm taking a fight at welterweight in a back-and-forth battle against Mike Perry. In his return, Felder dispatched James Vick by unanimous decision, which set him up for the fight against Barboza this weekend.

While the Brazilian has never fought for the UFC title, he’s long been considered an elite lightweight always hovering around the top five fighters at 155 pounds. That’s why Felder believes this is the last obstacle standing in his way before finally reaching serious consideration as a threat in the lightweight division.

“A guy like Edson, who’s ranked No. 7 on such a big card, it puts me in that spot and gets the respect of the UFC and the MMA community to start getting these options of the Tonys [Ferguson], the [Justin] Gaethjes, maybe the Conors [McGregor], all these things are potentially options,” Felder said.

The fight also gives Felder a chance at redemption.

Back in 2015 in only his third UFC contest, Felder lost a decision to Barboza in a three-round battle that earned them Fight of the Night honors. It was a crowd-pleasing affair but looking back now, Felder can barely recognize the guy who shared the Octagon with Barboza that night.

“I was all piss and vinegar and youth when I first fought him,” Felder said. “I had a lot of the cowboy mentality where I was just going to throw down and who gives a f—k and we’ll see what happens. I’ll be tougher and I’ll outlast him.

“He was training with Mark Henry and they game planned the s—t out of me. Every time I went to throw this or that, they had an answer for it. I still managed to crack him and hurt him a few times in that fight and made it a really competitive fight for my third UFC fight.”

Now after working under head coach Duke Roufus and his staff in Milwaukee, Felder feels truly prepared for Barboza and the rest of the best lightweights in the sport for that matter.

“It’s something that’s been on my mind for four years,” Felder said about the rematch. “I’m nervous in a good way. I’ve been in there with this guy, I know what he can do. I’ve sparred with him. I know how hungry he is right now because he’s not had the best luck himself in the division lately.

“It’s my time to go in there and show how much I’ve evolved and the kind of martial artist I’ve become over the last four years. I feel like my punching has gotten a lot better, my boxing has gotten a lot better since the first time we fought. I feel like my wrestling and my jiu-jitsu are probably 75 percent better than what it was back then. I just feel like I’ve grown into my body.”

As much as he wants to win, Felder doesn’t have any personal grudge to settle with Barboza despite their past meeting.

He just wants to avenge his loss, let the lightweight division know a new contender has arrived, and then he’ll gladly share a drink with Barboza afterwards.

“I want to crack him, end it early,” Felder said. “[I’ll] pick him back up and go see what Abu Dhabi is all about.”