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Paul Felder only interested in top-five opponents after facing Dan Hooker at UFC Auckland

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104_Paul_Felder_x_Edson_Barboza.0.jpgEsther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paul Felder only has one reason to keep fighting, and that’s to become UFC champion.

The 34-year-old Philadelphia native has plenty of options to help him make money that don’t involve getting punched in the face. He’s got a burgeoning career as a color commentator on UFC broadcasts, and with a background in theater, he could potentially return to acting. That’s why he’s clear about his expectations for a headlining fight against Dan Hooker at UFC Fight Night in Auckland, New Zealand.

A win at Saturday’s event puts Felder into position to fight a top-five ranked opponent. Names like Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier or Conor McGregor pique his interest. Otherwise, he told MMA Fighting, he’ll just find something else to do.

“At this point in my career, this will be my 14th or 15th UFC fight, I’m on a good win streak, (and) Dan’s on a good win streak,” he explained. “The winner of this fight is definitely going to move up and be guaranteed a fight against one of the top dogs in the top-five in this division. That’s what I need.

“Otherwise, like I’ve said many times, that’s the only reason I want to be in this sport anymore. I’m not in the sport because I absolutely have to make the money. I’m in this sport to be one of the best guys in the world. This fight gives me that opportunity.”

Following his most recent win over Edson Barboza at UFC 242, Felder was determined that his next fight happen in a main event against another worthy, ranked opponent.

When the UFC called and asked him to travel to New Zealand to fight in Hooker’s backyard, Felder didn’t blink, because all of his requirements were met, even if it meant flying halfway around the world to make it happen.

“Before it was announced, it was approached to me in passing by [UFC matchmaker] Sean [Shelby], and my manager and I love the fight,” Felder said. “Despite him being ranked one behind me, what’s more important to me is taking out guys on a win streak. Guys who have been looking good. I think that means more to me than beating somebody on a losing streak who is higher ranked than me.

“If I can take out a guy like Dan Hooker, even though he’s No. 7 and I’m No. 6, that doesn’t matter. He’s been killing it. He’s looked great. If I can do that in his hometown, that’s even better.”

If there was another factor driving Felder’s decision it was Hooker’s high-impact style. The New Zealander has only gone to decision four times in his UFC career with seven victories coming by way of knockout or submission.

Hooker is a “go big or go home” kind of fighter, and that’s exactly the kind of opponent that will help Felder get the attention of the best lightweights in the world.

“Me and Dan, you know what you’re going to get,” Felder said. “Whether it’s a first round fight or it goes all five, it’s going to be an entertaining main event. Anybody that’s in the know and follows the sport knows that. That’s what I’m excited about.”

If he’s victorious this weekend, Felder will move to 7-1 in his past eight fights, including three consecutive wins. At that point, he said there’s no going backward.

Felder has respect for every lightweight contender climbing the ranks. For the most part, they have the same goals in becoming UFC champion. But a win over Hooker tells Felder that he needs to keep moving forward.

“If I can pull off the win, especially if I do it impressively or get past a tough opponent like Dan, I’m not going to fight the No. 15 guy,” Felder said. “Not that I don’t have respect for the rest of the division, but if I win in Auckland, I’ll sit out and wait for a big fight and just stay training and stay healthy and stay commentating until that opportunity arises.

“Because at that point with the win streak that I would potentially be on, I’m not giving that spot up. I feel like one of us is really going to earn the right to compete for a No. 1 contender’s spot or even slide in for a title shot depending on how the rest of the division plays out with injuries and layoffs and things.”

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