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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Mixed Martial Arts: Philippou goes for it

Nick Catone, top, in action Costantinos Philippou during

Nick Catone, top, in action Costantinos Philippou during their mixed martial arts match at UFC 128. (March 19, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

Mixed martial artists accepts fights on short notice all the time. It's part of the nature of a sport that incorporates six different individual sports, all four limbs and a whole bunch of muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Seven days' notice, however, is crazy. One week to get into some sort of decent shape and develop a game plan? Yeesh.

But could Massapequa's Costantinos (Costa) Philippou really turn down an opportunity to fight in the UFC, the premier and essentially the only major MMA promotion in America? Not if he wants to make a career out of this sport and stop working as a process server during the day, a bouncer at night and a personal trainer in between.

With the purchase of Strikeforce, a solid No. 2 MMA promotion, by Zuffa LLC, parent company of UFC, it effectively creates an athletic monolith of fighting. UFC president Dana White insists the companies will run independently and that it's "business as usual" for Strikeforce. But the paychecks come from the same place now.

So, with limited options to reach the pinnacle of his sport, Philippou, 31, could not say no to his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at UFC 128 in Newark Saturday night. Even if the call woke him up last Saturday morning.

"They actually woke me up, and the guy goes 'Would you like to fight in the UFC on Saturday?" Philippou said. "I go 'Are you kidding me? Who is this?' I thought someone was playing a joke on me."

Yes, Philippou hung up on the UFC. But just for a minute.

He lost a hard-fought battle with Nick Catone by unanimous decision at 195 pounds at the Prudential Center.

If 168 hours of prep time to fight at a catchweight in the biggest MMA organization in the world sounds slightly west of ideal, then Philippou's journey to this moment is halfway around the globe.

He emigrated from Greece in 2006 because his best friend and boxing coach at the time "had the bright idea to move me over here to turn pro as a boxer," he said.

Philippou wound up in Merrick. "I ended up a stranger among strangers," said Philippou, who already spoke very good English. He reached the final of the Golden Gloves that year, losing by split decision. He turned pro and won all three of his fights. Then came a falling out with his coach and manager, he said. Two years remained on his contract, and Philippou wanted to keep fighting. Rather than fight in court, he stepped into the cage to try MMA.

"He came to the gym looking for that," trainer Ray Longo said. "At the beginning, we were going to try to get him some boxing fights, too."

Philippou stuck with MMA, though. "He does have a skill set that's going to be far superior than a lot of fighters in the UFC," Longo said.

Saturday night in Newark was his second chance to showcase those skills. One that will be harder to come by for many fighters as the UFC-Strikeforce partnership plays its course.

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