Costa Philippou steps up to fight another contender

UFC fighter Costa Philippou prepares to spar during

UFC fighter Costa Philippou prepares to spar during a training session at Ray Longo MMA Academy in Garden City. (Oct. 25, 2012) (Credit: James Escher)

What choice did Costa Philippou have when asked to replace injured teammate and title contender Chris Weidman and fight another title contender in Tim Boetsch on the UFC 155 main card on Saturday?

"Can't say I'm out of shape," Philippou said.

Not when he would have 38 days to get ready.

"Can't say I'm overweight."

Nope. Not when he had trimmed down to the required 185 pounds for middleweight just six days earlier for UFC 154, a fight that was canceled the morning of when his opponent was sick and not cleared to fight.

"Can't say I'm afraid."

Dude, he's a mixed martial artist, a man who trains to punch and kick and grapple with whoever is locked inside an eight-sided steel cage with him knowing full well he will be greeted by that person with the same.

"The only excuse would be I don't want to take the fight," Philippou said. "You can't really say that because that's your job. They hire you because your job is to fight. You say, 'No, I'm afraid?' You don't want to say that. Even if they don't fire you, then you don't belong there."

Philippou has already proven he belongs in the UFC -- he's on a four-fight win streak. Now the Serra-Longo fighter from Bayside by way of Cyprus and Long Island gets an opportunity to show where among the middleweights he ranks.

A win against the highly ranked and regarded Boetsch would elevate Philippou's status dramatically. Far more than a win over Nick Ring would have.

"I saw it as a win-win," Philippou said. "I lose the fight, OK, I lose to a top contender. I win the fight, and then I explode. I'll be up there."

Already in fighting shape from the canceled fight when the Boetsch bout fell into his lap, the challenge for Philippou is to stay in shape both physically and mentally for an extended period of time. Bringing the body to its optimal condition for a fight is one thing, but to have to do it again for five-plus more weeks can be draining. It requires as strong a mind as it does a left hook and takedown defense.

"You spend eight weeks, nine weeks to prepare for that fight," Philippou said. "You go through injuries, through pain, through starvation for that fight, and you don't get to do it, it was kind of disappointing."

There's no secret to what Philippou wants to do once he gets inside the octagon. His opponents know it, he knows it. Yet he's still 11-2, 4-1 in the UFC, and in position to give his career arc upward mobility.

Philippou wants to keep the fight standing and use his precision striking skills to control his opponent. Philippou was a Golden Gloves finalist and had a 3-0 record as a pro before turning to MMA. Boetsch (16-4, 7-3) has a wrestling pedigree, but seven of his wins have been by knockout or TKO compared with five for Philippou.

"It's way higher than I thought I was going to fight," Philippou said. "I'm jumping a little high but sometimes you have to go with it. Any given day, anybody can beat anybody in the UFC. That was proven a thousand times, and I'm planning to do that one more time."

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