Court McGee (14-1) and his Amish beard first sprang up on TUF 11. Going into the show, he'd amassed a 10-1 record highlighted by wins over DaMarques Johnson (guillotine choke) and Nick Rossborough (decision), who recently fought Lorenz Larkin in the main event of Strikeforce Challengers 19. Wise old MMA sage Jeremy Horn was responsible for his only defeat. A deeper glance into McGee's early life reveals a birth in martial arts through wrestling and Shin-Toshi karate and, perhaps more indicative of the person he's matured into today, overcoming an alcohol and heroin addiction.
McGee lost a semi-controversial two-round decision to Nick Ring in his opening bout that some felt warranted the sudden-death round. However, a series of injuries caused a reshuffling of the deck and McGee capitalized in full on his resurrection with three straight submission wins. The roll started with Brad Tavares (rear-naked choke), progressed to James Hammortree (standing guillotine choke) and crescendoed with another rear-naked choke on Kris McCray to clench the TUF 11 championship. That was in June of 2010 and, though he's only competed twice since, McGee has sustained his momentum with defeats of Ryan Jensen (arm-triangle) and a hard-fought decision over Korean Top Team slugger Dongi Yang.
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Constantinos Philippou (9-2), aka "Costa Philippou," hails from the Republic of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. He started out strictly as a boxer but set up shop with Matt Serra and Ray Longo at the Longo-Serra Fight Team to smooth out his rough edges. Though the transformation did not take place overnight, Philippou's last two performances mark a very noticeable evolution into a complete mixed martial artist.
His one-dimensional striking style was understandably muzzled by powerhouse wrestler Ricardo Romero in his MMA debut in the reputable Ring of Combat promotion, but Philippou went on to win seven of his next eight with one No Contest (accidental groin kick). That stretch included a decision over Victor O'Donnell, the heavy-handed beast who shattered Chris Camozzi's jaw (despite losing) in the elimination match of TUF 11 and is now on Bellator's roster. Continuing the TUF 11 theme, Philippou was submitted by Joseph Henle in the initial elimination round.
In his Octagon debut at UFC 128, which was a short-notice catch-weight bout (195-pounds), another wrestling specialist in Nick Catone would deliver Costa's second career defeat (decision), but it would be the last. Philippou engaged volatile veteran Jorge Rivera in his preferred realm of close-quarters brawling and eked out a narrow but impressive split decision. His last outing was a thunderous knockout of the rubber-chinned Jared Hamman, who is known for his ability to take punishment, but could withstand only three minutes of Costa's.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Dongi Yang, McGee's last opponent, has a set of attributes most relevant to Philippou as a sprawl-and-brawl fighter.
McGee has tightened up his striking since appearing on the show and the sequence to the right shows that increased effectiveness, but also some of the warning signs. He cracks Yang, who has a bank vault for a chin, and sends him reeling with a stiff left hook. However, McGee's hands are dangerously low, his head dangerously still and his advances are devoid of any set up or angles.
McGee was rocked on more than one occasion because of this shaky tendencies. While the decision wasn't highly controversial, there is a case for Yang and it was definitely closer than your typical unanimous decision. My final critique of his stand up is that he has a little trouble blending his wrestling and striking together; he's either in full striking mode with an extremely upright stance (left) or rooted in takedown mode with a crouched stance, ready to shoot. In that aspect, however, McGee is stellar. He's a gifted wrestler with good submissions and excellent scrambling skills.
Hamman's admirable soup-strainer mustache was insufficient padding for Philippou's ferocious boxing. Hamman was admittedly the ideal type of gun-slinging brawler for Philippou's scalpel-like punching precision, but Costa still fought with a commanding confidence that portrayed his true ferocity.
While Rivera doesn't mirror the takedown prowess of Catone, Romero or even McGee, Costa unveiled a new comfort in defensive clinching and scrambling. He seems to have gotten a good feel of footwork by fine-tuning it so that he's still an aggressive power puncher while mitigating takedown risks.
Costa showed major improvement in his offensive grappling as well, as he took Rivera down, was ultra-slippery in transitions and even went after a few submissions. To the left, he shows that he only needs to create a few inches of space of light off his hands. When clinched up, Costa was wise in attaining at least one underhook or grabbing the whizzer to maintain the leverage and resistance to stay on his feet. Once he held his ground, he'd bang a knee to the midsection or fire an uppercut from the single collar-tie to keep Rivera at bay.
Along with his clinch tactics and overall takedown defense, the two tools in Costa's arsenal that will be crucial are the uppercut and straight knee. These are excellent deterrents for a wrestler looking to drop levels or rush into the clinch. I think the vast disparity in their striking skills will cause McGee to quickly conclude that he's a hittable target on the feet. That realization could elicit desperation and panic, or a more focused and intelligent approach from McGee.
I'm more inclined to assume the former. It's not that McGee is atrocious standing -- it's just that Costa is tailor-made to find and exploit weaknesses in the standing department, and his boxing is laser-precise and powerful. His recent strides in scrambling and takedown defense lead me to believe that he can fortify his faults better than McGee can.
My Prediction: Costa Philippou by TKO.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com