UFC analyst Paul Felder will leave the broadcast location Wednesday -- in the middle of the show -- to corner a teammate.
Felder, a UFC lightweight fighter and one of the promotion's top on-air analysts, will temporarily step away as color commentator and man the corner of longtime friend Jared Gordon, who will fight Chris Fishgold on the prelims of the UFC Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi.
Gordon flew to Abu Dhabi last week with no corner people. The coaches and teammates from Sanford MMA in Florida who would normally be in his corner all tested positive for COVID-19 or came into contact with someone who had the virus.
When Gordon arrived on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island, which has been dubbed "Fight Island" for this monthlong slate of events, he reached out to Felder, whom he has known for nearly a decade. Gordon asked Felder if he could be in his corner, and Felder obliged after getting permission from the UFC.
Gordon and Felder trained together and fought on the same cards while coming up as pros in the Northeast. They trained together on Donald Cerrone's BMF Ranch in Edgewood, New Mexico, and at Roufusport in Milwaukee. Gordon has struggled with addiction over the years, overdosing on drugs three times. Felder has been there during some of his low points, Gordon said.
Felder once excused himself from the broadcast for one of Gordon's fights because the two are so close. This time, Felder will depart his analyst seat and, in a full suit, work Gordon's corner during and between rounds. Felder also helped Gordon cut weight this week.
"It means a lot to me," Gordon said. "He's seen me at my worst times."
Gordon said he will have two other corner people: Garry Tonon and Eric Nicksick. Tonon, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu star, is a former training partner in New York. Nicksick, who coaches at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, will be cornering Dan Ige in the main event Wednesday against Calvin Kattar. Ige and Gordon are represented by the same management team, SuckerPunch Entertainment.
The past month has been tumultuous for Gordon. About three weeks ago, Gordon said his fiancée, Christina Gambino, suffered a miscarriage and then was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Gordon said he was sick briefly as well, with a 102-degree fever. When Gambino told him that she had COVID-19, Gordon moved out and quarantined in another apartment. His test for the virus came back negative.
"I had to drop everything and pack all my stuff for Abu Dhabi early," Gordon said.
Before his trip, Gordon got tested again, and the result came back negative. He flew to Las Vegas on July 5, got tested by the UFC and quarantined. That test was also negative. Gordon boarded the UFC charter on July 6 -- the one UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was on ahead of UFC 251 on Saturday -- en route to Abu Dhabi.
Like everyone else in the UFC traveling party, Gordon was tested when he got to Abu Dhabi. The next day, he got a call from UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard, who told him that his COVID-19 result came back positive. Gordon was tested two more times and had to quarantine for 12 hours in his room.
Gordon said he was "freaking out" -- not just because he might have been out of his bout but also because he was in proximity to many people on the flight. He even took a photo that was widely shared with UFC president Dana White, UFC Hall of Famer Matt Serra and UFC Hall of Famer and analyst Michael Bisping. Gordon feared that he might have unknowingly caused a COVID-19 outbreak on Fight Island.
"I'm like, 'Holy s---, I just exposed Dana White, Serra and Bisping and everyone on the f---ing plane to coronavirus,'" Gordon said. "It was a 15-hour flight. Someone has to get it, being on the plane that long. ... It would have looked like the UFC botched their efforts. You could imagine for 12 hours, I'm in this room, and I'm freaking out. I can't do anything. I'm quarantined. I was just really depressed for 12 hours."
Gordon still worked out on his balcony in an effort to continue cutting weight. The results came back from his tests and were negative. He was tested again, and the result was negative again. Gordon said the one test that was different had to have been a false positive.
Gordon was cleared and weighed in successfully Tuesday. He and everyone else on the card was tested again, and those results will come back prior to the event. Gordon will likely compete Wednesday and have his good friend Felder by his side.
"Somehow," he said, "I kept it together."