Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
The fighting career of Costas Philippou will come to an end at some point. Maybe one more fight. Maybe three or four.
When it does, though, that’s when his life will really start.
“Fighting is just a stage in my life,” the UFC middleweight told Newsday last week. “Fighting is not my life. It’s something I do for now. It might end tomorrow. It might end in two or three or five years. Fighting is not what I’m all about. It’s a stepping stone to something else.”
Most MMA fighters talk about their quest to be champion of the world. Most athletes in every other sport do the same. It’s that drive to be crowned the best in their chosen sport that motivates them each day to push their bodies to the limit and beyond.
Professional athletes are wired differently than civilians that way. Philippou is wired differently than other professional athletes.
He rarely talks about a title shot, not when Anderson Silva was the champion and not now as former teammate Chris Weidman holds the belt. Even when he was ranked as high as No. 5 in the middleweight division in the first half of 2013, he didn’t mention much about any sort of fight involving him and a championship.
“They think I’m crazy when I tell them I don’t care,” said Philippou, 34. “Yeah, if the title shot comes, good. If not, it is what it is. Even if I don’t get to fight again, I did more than I expected. You gotta remember, I came from a totally different sport. I never imagined I would compete in MMA. I am coming from the middle of nowhere, in a huge country that I never expected myself to make it and I made a life for myself. And I can honestly say I’m living a dream.”
Philippou emigrated from Cyprus to Long Island when he was 25 years old to be a professional boxer, settling in Merrick. He made the move with close friend and boxing coach Polis Potamitis. He has since lived in Massapequa and Bayside, and now owns a home in Massapequa Park. Philippou reached the final of the Golden Gloves tournament at Madison Square Garden in 2006 but lost to Nagy Aguilera. He turned pro shortly thereafter and went 3-0, but left boxing and turned to MMA after a dispute with his manager in 2007.
The powerful striker put together a five-fight win streak in the UFC from August 2011 to December 2012, highlighted by a third-round TKO of highly regarded Tim Boetsch at UFC 155. That’s the fight that put him on the map. He went from a guy who people knew about to a guy people had to know about. A follow-up fight with Jacare Souza was canceled when he pulled out after getting cut in training shortly before the bout.
Next up was Francis Carmont, a fight Philippou lost.
He made no excuses about that fight, saying he was “seeing everything in slow motion.”
Still, as talk of Philippou’s talents intensified in the lead-up to the Carmont fight, Philippou (12-4, 5-3 UFC) never once suggested a title shot. That’s not his style. Instead, he suggested he would perhaps like to fight Michael Bisping, another top middleweight who’s none too shy about giving outlandish, over-the-top quotes about a possible challenger.
That fight did not materialize, of course. Instead, Philippou headlined Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 35 in Duluth, Ga., against Luke Rockhold.
Rockhold stopped Philippou in the first round with a pair of kicks to the midsection. Philippou fell to the mat after the second body kick from Rockhold, and referee Herb Dean stopped the bout.
"That was worst case scenario," Philippou said after the fight.
Perhaps Rockhold's kicks will end Philippou's fighting career. Perhaps not. Philippou’s dreams don’t necessarily coincide with his talents. He has the power in each hand to make serious noise in the middleweight division and set himself up for life that way.
But here’s the thing: His idea of setting himself up for life is not what you expect. He doesn’t want to be recognized in the street everywhere he goes. He doesn’t feel the need to leave a legacy, or to establish his name as a brand in MMA circles outside of octagons. He’d rather build a career in law enforcement. Philippou said he plans on being a corrections officer in the next chapter of his life. He also said he plans to take the New York City police test at some point after his fight Wednesday night.
“That’s the end goal — something I can make a life out of,” Philippou said. “Fighting is temporary.”
But for now?
“I’m good at something, I’m taking advantage of it for now,” Philippou said. “It pays, why not? I’m not looking for the fame and glory or whatever. I don’t know. I’m a little bit more down to earth with what I’m looking for in my life.”
In his sights are a few more dogs to go along with his pit bull and Chihuahua, plus starting a family.
“I know I'll have my Saturday, my Sunday, and I come home, I have my wife, my kid, my dog,” Philippou said. “That’s the life for me. I can see it. I’m almost ready to reach out and grab the perfect life. I’m almost there. I’m excited."