Two of the UFC's most promising middleweight prospects will meet this Friday night (March 2, 2012) as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 11 winner Court McGee squares off against Constantinos Philippou in the opening bout of the UFC on FX 2 main card in Sydney, Australia.
McGee was able to navigate a tough field on season 11 of TUF and came out smelling like a rose. Unfortunately, he's had to battle multiple injuries which have prevented him from being as active as he would like. Now 3-0 in the UFC, he's hoping to build some momentum and stay healthy.
Constantinos Philippou was a strong performer in Atlantic City's Ring of Combat and after dropping his UFC debut, he's bounced back in a big way with strong victories including a decision win against recently retired veteran Jorge Rivera. Now on a two fight winning streak in the promotion, he's hoping to break through with a strong performance against a reputable TUF winner.
Can McGee "crush" Philippou's dreams of entering the next echelon in the middleweight division? Or will "Costa" be able to pulverize his opponent with his power? What's the best path to victory for both men on Friday night?
Let's find out:Court McGee
Record: 14-1 overall, 3-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jeremy Horn (UCE)
How he got here: Court McGee has been through quite a bit in his 27 years here on this Earth. You've probably heard the story now but in case you haven't, McGee nearly died while addicted to heroin and through recovery, discovered a passion for MMA. He became sober in 2006, had his first fight in 2007 and hasn't looked back.
"The Crusher" was extremely active early in his career, taking nine fights in his first full year of mixed martial arts competition and his sole career loss has been to UFC veteran Jeremy Horn. McGee took a five fight win streak into the tryouts for season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, where his story captivated producers, cast members and the fans.
After initially defeating Seth Baczynski to get on the show, McGee lost a controversial majority decision in his second fight to Nick Ring. He would earn a shot to redeem himself when Rich Attonito broke his hand. The Utah native would defeat James Hammertree and Brad Tavares to advance to the show's finale.
In the finale, McGee dominated Kris McCray, choking out "Savage" in the second round to be crowned the winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 11. Since the show, McGee has struggled with injuries, only fighting twice, but he's been victorious both times against mid-tier fighters Ryan Jenson and Dongi Yang.
"Crusher" is now ready for a step up against a fellow rising prospect in Constantinos Philippou.
How he gets it done: McGee's most useful skills for this fight will be his wrestling and submission game. His opponent, Constantinos Philippou, is primarily a striker so he will absolutely need to be careful, especially considering he has been dropped or rocked in both of his last two fights against Ryan Jenson and Yang.
If the fight is stuck in the stand-up realm, "The Crusher" does have some respectable boxing (2-0 as a professional) and has a strong history with karate as well, but he's not exactly ferocious in his striking and he lacks significant power there especially with his punches.
I really don't expect McGee to be able to stand and trade with "Costa" so it's more likely that he's going to try to use his striking to set up takedowns. He's got some strong wrestling, but it's more of a technical variety, not the explosive type. That actually works to his advantage as McGee is operating on a surgically repaired knee.
Time is also on McGee's side. If he can push a strong pace and wear Philippou down, his conditioning is about as good as it gets in the middleweight division and he can take over late in the fight.
Record: 9-2 (1 No Contest) overall, 2-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Originally from Cyprus, Philippou moved to America and began training at Matt Serra's academy in New York.
He made his debut in the Atlantic City fight promotion Ring of Combat in 2008, fighting on five consecutive numbered events for the promotion and accumulating a 4-1 record in the process with his only loss being to eventual UFC light heavyweight Ricardo Romero in his MMA debut.
Philippou would fight four more times for Ring of Combat, going 3-0 with one "No Contest" before earning a shot in the UFC. He stepped up on short notice to face Nick Catone when Yoshihio Akiyama couldn't fight Nate Marquardt, and Catone's original opponent, Dan Miller stepped up to the main card.
Due to the late notice, Philippou debuted at a 195 catchweight but would lose a unanimous decision to Catone. He was slated to face Rafael Natal before an injury to Alessio Sakara gave him an opportunity to step up in the biggest opportunity of his young career against veteran Jorge Rivera.
"Costa" seized the opportunity and defeated Rivera via split decision. He followed up that victory this past December by thrashing the durable Jared Hamman with a violent first round knockout which put him on the map in the division. If he can beat an Ultimate Fighter winner, he'll definitely be primed for some high profile fights.
How he gets it done: Philippou is primarily a striker, having scored five wins by knockout. Thus, he's going to have to be very careful about utilizing his distance and being able to strike safely without risking being taken down or clinched.
McGee isn't afraid to stand and trade with anyone for a bit, so "Costa" absolutely must take advantage of the time this fight is kept standing. That's when he's most vulnerable.
If he hurts McGee with any punches, he's going to have to swarm him. McGee has recovered every other time he's been stunned and then taken over the fight later on. He has to keep attacking until the ref pulls him off or McGee goes completely unconscious. If he gives McGee any space, he could recover and make him pay.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor in this fight has to be the strength of McGee's chin versus the power of Philippou. While I know McGee has some respectable boxing skills and his defense is decent, he also tends to get hurt at least one time when he fights. It happened against Ryan Jenson and Dongi Yang, and if "Costa" tags him with something hard, will he be able to actually recover from this one?
Philippou is coming off a violent destruction of Jared Hamman, a fighter who had a reputation for being able take a punch and keep going based on pure heart alone. Does that sound similar to anyone else? (Hint: I'm talking about McGee). If the New Jersey-based fighter can hurt McGee standing, I don't know if he'll be able to recover this time.
Bottom Line: This is a very intriguing match-up between two of the UFC's best up-and-coming prospects. Both Philippou and McGee are on nice streaks in the middleweight division and are bracing for the next big step. This is a very important fight for both men. The most interesting battle will be between Philippou's power in the stand-up and McGee's ability to control and potentially submit him on the ground. Whoever is able to impose their will has a very strong chance of coming out the other side as the victor. I can definitely see a finish for either man. This should be a very entertaining bout.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 2? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!