Before the bright lights shine down on“The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz (16-8-1) and “Sugar” Rashad Evans (15-1-1) at UFC 133 for the second time in their careers, the UFC will treat fans to an exciting card stacked to the hilt with veteran fighters. Middleweight fan favorites “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort (19-9) and “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-4) will fight to get themselves back in the title picture after a pair of heartbreaking losses, “Superman” Dennis Hallman (45-13-2) and the Midwestern brawler Brian Ebersole (40-14-1) will square off at welterweight, and grappling aces “Quicksand” Mike Pyle (21-6-1) and “The Water Boy” Rory MacDonald (11-1) will bring everything they’ve got into the cage. Also appearing on the card are “El Conquistador” Jorge Rivera (18-8) and Costantinos Philippou (7-2), two middleweights who have had the task of rebounding from recent losses made all the more difficult by suffering late replacements in opponents. Rivera, who was brutally KO’d by “The Count” Michael Bisping (21-3) in February, was originally slated to fight “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara (15-8) who had to pull out with a knee injury. Philippou was then pulled from his fight with Rafael Natal (12-3-1), a bout he had already taken on short notice, to replace Sakara.
At First Glance: These kind of short notice bouts are always a blast to see because there is no way to tell what is going to happen. It also makes them very difficult to analyze. Fights where the combatants have almost no time to prepare a specific plan for each other are the most pure that are ever seen in MMA competition because each fighter must fall back on their own skill set and their own personal style of fighting rather than isolated pieces of it that are designed to defeat a specific opponent. For Rivera, this will come in the form of a gritty, primal ground-and-pound grind. For Philippou it will show itself as an equally gritty ground attack with a focus on passing to superior positions in the process of pounding his way to the win.
In Depth: Rivera and his young Greek counterpart have very similar styles. They have the submission skill to snag the opportunity when it arises, they have the stand-up to do enough damage to allow them to get takedowns that their wrestling alone wouldn’t warrant, and they both have an ugly, in-your-face style of ground-and-pound that usually wins them their bouts. The differences come in the age old argument of age and experience vs. youth and skill. Rivera has been around the block quite a few times in his decade of MMA experience and knows the tricks of the trade needed to adapt to a short notice fight, however, he is also very set in his ways. Philippou is a younger fighter with less miles on his engine and the adaptability that comes with having not yet formed an identity all his own as a fighter. The end product will be a result of one of two things: either “El Conquistador” will feel the bite of father time and just be out-quicked, out-gassed, and in general out-performed, or Philippou will make a mistake he didn’t even realize was a mistake and Rivera will drag him into a controlled war of attrition in which the wiser fighter calls the shots. In this case, the latter is the less likely of the two. Rivera has experience, but he has also fought the same fight in every bout of his career. This makes a strong case that Rivera will fly on auto-pilot and the destination will be into a fire fight on the ground that he can’t win.
Wild Card: Rivera has one solid chance for victory and that lies in his feet. Rivera is the superior striker with the more powerful punches. While it isn’t likely that his camp was preparing to box with KO artist Alessio Sakara, the natural skill and power to end the fight is there. If Rivera focuses on counter-striking and stifling the younger fighter’s takedowns, he can goad Philippou into a stand-up war where the Greek uses a lot of his stamina chasing Rivera down and recovering from heavy left hooks.
The Verdict: Rivera is the more experienced fighter and has many short notice bouts to learn from, but the edge here belongs to the younger man. Rivera has the speed and power in his hands to finish the fight quickly on the feet, but if he tries, Philippou will simply shoot to the inside clench and drag Rivera into a ground war that will quickly sap his strength. Philippou via TKO (Strikes), Round 3