I don’t know Paul Felder, but he seems like a do-right kind of guy. And being such, when the UFC lost Islam Makhachev due to a staph infection just a week out before UFC Vegas 14, Felder was kind enough to step in and save the event. (I don’t mean that metaphorically either. According to Rafael dos Anjos, the card was in danger of being scrapped completely.) All despite the fact that Felder seemed ready to walk away from MMA after his bout with Dan Hooker.
I think that bears repeating. In an effort to save a professional fight card, the UFC needed to enlist the services of a fighter who had been considering retirement.
Yes, Felder wasn’t technically retired. But this wasn’t a man Waiting for a Fight either. ‘What’s the big deal? These fighters are consenting adults!’ Well, so are teachers. Does that mean we should accept an environment in which ninety-four percent of all public school teachers have to spend their own money on school supplies? This is not about freedom. It’s about quality. Does the UFC want to promote quality cards, or do they just want the show to go on, no matter the cost? Does Dan White want what’s best for the fighters, or what’s best for his shareholders?
It could easily be argued that there is only so much the UFC can do. ‘Well what are they supposed to do? Monitor every single training camp to make sure nobody gets seriously injured?’
This kind of response is the ‘Go Back to Foreign Country X’ of UFC fan logic. Perfection is not a realistic demand, but the struggle towards it should be. Why not start with strict adherence to medical suspensions, for one? When Dan Hardy got knocked out by Carlos Condit, he was given a 30-day medical suspension with 21 of those allotted to ‘no contact’. By his own admission, he was back in the gym the following Monday. When the head of the athletic commission was asked whether fighters were following these important medical protocols, his answer was “I hope so.”
That’s not an isolated case. After Mike Perry’s fight with Vincent Luque in August last year, he was given a suspension of 180 days, pending clearance from an otolaryngologist. You don’t have to know what an otolaryngologist is to know it probably had to do with Perry’s nose getting turned into ground beef. Yet he’d fight again that December. More than half the time spent to prepare for Geoff Neal was waiting for a medical clearance — presumably. Why are we okay with this?
We could talk about Dana’s insistence on holding shows during a global pandemic, making the rather thorough argument that a pandemic has made us all “pussies overnight” for not embracing his Mortal Kombat fight island and ignoring the human cost, but we already have, so we won’t.
Not enough is made about the UFC schedule, and its unorganized demands. Fighters never really know how many times they can expect to compete. Situations like this are what create those embarrassing telecast moments when a fighter’s second job is brought up, as if anybody would take seriously Dak Prescott working part time as a waiter like Geoff Neal to make ends meet. The fighters aren’t buying it, and neither should we.
Without a more organized schedule, fighters are forced to train year-around. This takes a toll. Especially since preliminary studies have shown that “three times the amount of injuries occurred in training rather than actual competition.” And anytime a card is in danger of being cancelled, it’s always the fighter’s fault.
Paul Felder seems like a do-right kind of guy. He’s doing UFC fans a big favor. He’s doing the UFC a big favor. It’s a lot to ask of him. Despite his professionalism (and what I assume has been a somewhat steady training program) he’s gonna perform as best as he can—even without having access to any of the preparation resources normally reserved for professional athletes. If only the UFC could do right by Paul Felder. If only cards didn’t need to be rescued. Wouldn’t that be something.