If Costas Philippou learned anything from his UFC 165 loss to Francis Carmont, it’s that taking a step back is the first step in moving forward.
The middleweight snapped a five match winning streak and dropped his mixed martial arts record to 12-3, with one No Contest decision. Philippou is a boxer by trade, beginning his career 1994 while still in Cyprus, and heavily relies on his striking to overpower opponents. He initially journeyed to the United States in hopes of becoming a professional boxer, but transitioned into MMA after three professional fights.
Philippou joined the Serra-Longo Fight Team, headed by longtime UFC welterweight Matt Serra, and made his MMA debut with Atlantic City-based promotion Ring of Combat. After losing his first fight to Ricardo Romero in May 2008 Philippou impressively won his next five, including a Ring of Combat 34 match with Uriah Hall.
Philippou and Serra-Longo had a falling out early in 2013 when he decided on switching to the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, although both sides say the split was amicable.
While his initial UFC appearance was on The Ultimate Fighter 11, Philippou didn’t make his debut until UFC 128, losing to Nick Cantone by unanimous decision. Five fights later, he was climbing up the rankings with victories over Riki Fukuda and Tim Boetsch; all of this momentum stopped with the loss to Carmont.
Philippou’s next match is against Luke Rockhold at Fight Night 35. Rockhold, the No. 6-ranked middleweight in the UFC rankings, dominated his Strikeforce opponents before losing his inaugural UFC fight to Vitor Belfort. The Jan. 15 fight will be Philippou’s first headlining event in the UFC.
“I don’t care about the fame or glory. I just want to fight,” Philippou said in a UFC Fight Night interview leading up his fight with Rockhold. “Yes he wants to win and he wants to be a champion. And he can do all these things, after my fight. After he loses to me, he can do all of these things.”
As Carmont showed in their fight last year, Philippou has decent striking, but needs to work on his defensive grappling and takedown defense. Philippou didn’t have an answer for Carmont’s repeated advances and never fully followed through on his game plan.
Rockhold presents more of a challenge to Philippou, and if he couldn’t handle Carmont’s takedowns, he won’t have a chance against the former Strikeforce middleweight champion. Rockhold is a submission specialist and will look to lock in a rear naked choke.
“Winning this fight will get me to the top. Everyone will be talking about me again,” Philippou said. “I can knockout anybody. I’m stronger, I’m faster, my technique is better.” If Rockhold returns to his Strikeforce form, people will be talking about Philippou for all the wrong reasons.
Fight Night 35 airs live from Atlanta, Ga. and can be seen on Fox Sports 1.