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UFC 258 - New Blood: ‘The Fresh Prince’ of the Octagon

In a rare change of pace, UFC 258 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 13, 2020) has remained largely intact, leaving just a single debutant to ply his craft. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where my annoyance with UFC’s decision to split its content archives between Fight Pass and ESPN+ grows by the day, we check out an unexpected “Contender Series” success story.

Philip “The Fresh Prince” Rowe

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 30
Record: 7-2 (3 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Leon Shahbazyan

After staring his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career with two consecutive losses, Rowe embarked on a six-fight win streak, ending all six bouts in two rounds or less. His success carried him to “Contender Series,” where he knocked out Leon Shahbazyan to earn himself a contract.

This will be his fourth attempt at an Octagon debut — planned clashes with Laureano Staropoli, Cole Williams and Matthew Semelsberger all fell through last year, making this his first fight since Aug. 2019.

Rowe is certainly a unique case, starting with the ridiculous 6’3” frame and 80.5-inch reach that allow him to constantly sidestep and circle out of his opponent’s range while sending out combinations or kicks at a sedate pace. He can’t quite use those physical gifts to their fullest, unfortunately. That’s because outside of his powerful low kicks, his striking tends to be worryingly awkward, especially the lunging right hand that often throws him off-balance and leaves him vulnerable to counters. In addition, rudimentary pressure can leave him stuck against the fence, which Shahbazyan took advantage of to land some heavy blows.

When passivity goes wrong, however, he’s shown a willingness to knuckle down and just swing from the hip. After surviving that early trouble against Shahbazyan, he chased him all the way across the cage with flurries and beat the stuffing out of him as soon as he actually hit the fence. Neither his “cruise control” nor “burn down everything” approaches look like they’ll hold up against legitimate top-class strikers, but he can definitely pour on the hurt if you underestimate him or gas out early.

He’s got no shortage of confidence in his ground game, though whether or not that’s entirely warranted remains in question. He jumped guard early against 4-5 Matt McKeon two fights back, but wasn’t able to get anything done off of his back, ultimately electing to stand and hit a body lock takedown of his own. He also fell victim to a desperation shot from Shahbazyan while trying to reverse it, though he did manage to sweep and use his length to pulverize Shahbazyan from guard. While he can clearly do some damage on top and has some choking skills, he’ll need to show a lot more wrestling chops before I can call him a real ground threat.

I can’t fault Rowe’s grit, but there’s clearly a lot of work to be done before he can make a name for himself in the world’s largest fight promotion. I see him washing out after a handful of fights.

Opponent: He meets another unspectacular Welterweight in Gabe Green, who lost a slugfest to Daniel Rodriguez in his UFC debut. “Gifted” is not a difficult man to take down, giving Rowe a potential avenue to victory, but his power and durability should allow Green to dominate on the feet and spoil “The Fresh Prince’s” Octagon arrival.

Tape: His “Contender Series” bout is on ESPN+, while his previous Island Fight appearance can be found on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 258 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 258: “Usman vs. Burns” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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