Two rising UFC middleweight prospects will clash this Saturday night (Nov. 17, 2012) as New Jersey's own Costa Philippou takes on Canadian Nick Ring on the UFC 154 main card in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Philippou enters the bout riding a solid four fight win streak and has taken the slow and steady route to get to the main card of a big pay-per-view. He'll be taking on a tough Canadian in Canada so he has his work cut out for him this weekend.
Nick Ring was one of the favorites to win season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) but a freak knee injury kept him from advancing past the quarterfinals. "The Promise" has held his own under the UFC banner and recently vindicated himself by winning a decision against Court McGee, the crowned winner from his season of TUF.
Record: 11-2 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Riki Fukuda (UFC 148), Court McGee (UFC on FX 2), Jorge Rivera (UFC 133)
Key Losses: Nick Catone (UFC 128)
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 and would lose a unanimous decision to the wrestler. 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. He's since scored consecutive unanimous decision victories over Court McGee and Riki Fukuda to secure a solid four fight winning streak in the middleweight division.
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.
Philippou loves to fight in the pocket, but he'll have to avoid Ring's attempts to bring the fight to the ground. It's all about footwork and timely aggression.
The New Jersey based fighter has been plagued by an inability to be aggressive at times, especially considering how powerful and technical he is capable of being on the feet. If he starts to secure a lead in the striking department, he should really press that advantage and try to work a stoppage.
Record: 13-1 overall, 3-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Court McGee (UFC 149), James Head (UFC 131)
Key Losses: Tim Boetsch (UFC 135)
How he got here: Nick Ring surprisingly started his MMA career in 2002, but before that, he was a professional kickboxer with over 30 fights. Mixed throughout the early years of his MMA transition, he also competed as a boxer. He was well on his way to a promising career before a devastating knee injury completely derailed his path.
"The Promise" returned with a vengeance three years later, winning his comeback fight in just 39 seconds. After two more first round finishes, he was invited to participate on season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) where he was a favorite to win it all.
After a rough start to the show, he was forced to leave following an aggravation of his knee injury, which sidelined him for over a year. He finally returned at UFC 127 in Australia, winning an extremely controversial decision against Riki Fukuda.
Ring made up for the controversy by defeating James Head in his only UFC stoppage, but was derailed by Tim Boetsch in the Mile High City late last year. He got back on track by defeating the winner of his season of TUF, Court McGee in his last bout and drew an extremely tough task against Philippou at this event.
How he gets it done: While Ring has some solid kickboxing and boxing fundamentals, he just doesn't compare to Philippou in terms of range, technique and especially power. If he chooses to stand and bang with "Costa," his night could be ended very quickly.
Ring's plan of attack should revolved around taking away Philippou's weapons by closing the distance with both takedowns and clinch attempts. If he can put the former boxer on his back, he absolutely should. Philippou's biggest weaknesses have been against wrestlers, although his takedown defense has improved significantly in the short time he's been in the UFC.
If takedowns aren't working, Ring needs to get on the inside and make the fight ugly in the clinch, working short knees, elbows and dirty boxing while mixing in takedown attempts by changing levels just to keep him honest. He can win this fight, but it won't be easy and it won't be pretty.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be Philippou's aggression and his improving takedown defense. If he can fend off Ring's takedowns, he'll be one step closer to utilizing his boxing and working towards a victory. The other important component is whether or not he'll be looking to turn it up a notch in the striking department.
Philippou has been outclassing all of his opponents on the feet, but he hasn't pulled the trigger with the big power strikes nearly as much as he should. If he lets Ring stick around, he'll open himself up to getting hit with a heavy shot or put on his back. The sooner he can actually end this fight, the better.
Bottom Line: If both men actually choose to stand and bang, this fight has potential to be extremely entertaining. With Ring's kickboxing and boxing background coinciding with Philippou's technical boxing prowess, both men could really be bringing it if they keep it on the feet. While Philippou will likely have the striking edge, Ring can mix in kicks and make this fight interesting. It's not guaranteed excitement, however, as Philippou has had trouble pulling the trigger in the past and if Ring starts losing on the feet, he could try to even everything out by making it extremely ugly, and that would only be beneficial for him, not the fans.
Who will come out on top at UFC 154? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!