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After seizing opportunity, Constantinos Philippou now just one win away from contender status

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

No matter who they are fighting or how long the odds are, a professional fighter will rarely admit weakness or uncertainty.

But when Constantinos "Costas" Philippou walked to the cage at UFC 128 to make his official UFC debut, he was certain of only one thing: He would lose.

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Constantinos Philippou and Court McGee exchange punches. (Getty)

 

A few months before, Philippou had been picked to appear on "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's reality series. But Philippou was submitted by Joseph Henle in the qualifying round and thus didn't earn a spot in the house during Season 11.

He went back to fight in the Atlantic City, N.J.,-based Ring of Combat, where he was racking up wins, if not attention.

A few days before UFC 128 on March 19, 2011, Philippou was offered a spot on the card in Newark, N.J., against Nick Catone. Yoshiro Akiyama pulled out of his fight with Nate Marquardt because of the devastating earthquake in Japan. UFC officials moved Dan Miller from his fight against Catone into a more high-profile match with Marquardt, leaving Catone in need of an opponent.

Philippou trains in Long Island, N.Y., as part of the Serra-Longo fight team, and was available, so it seemed to make sense.

He much rather would have had an entire camp to prepare, but he was in no position to be particular at that point. He said yes, even though he wasn't exactly filled with confidence.

"I took the fight on five days notice and I knew I was going to lose the fight," Philippou said. "My goal going into that fight was to lose by decision. I wasn't in shape. I thought if I lost by decision and not by submission or knockout, I could go back to the gym, get into shape and maybe do something. But I [accepted the fight] because it was my chance to get into the UFC."

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He did, in fact, lose by decision, as the judges gave all three rounds to Catone.

He won, but barely, in his next outing, squeaking out a victory over Jorge Rivera. But in his next three fights, he was impressive, knocking out Jared Hamman and scoring decisions over Court McGee and Riki Fukuda.

He's now won four in a row, and is, almost improbably, becoming a contender. A four-fight UFC winning streak is significant, even if Philippou hasn't engaged with any of the middleweight division's elite just yet.

He fights Nick Ring on Nov. 17 on the main card of UFC 154 at the Bell Centre in Montreal with an opportunity to be regarded as a title contender.

"I don't know about that," he said, laughing nervously. "That's something I don't think about, at least not now. Winning four fights in a row, yes, I'm proud of that. It's an accomplishment. But I have a lot of work ahead of me. I don't think that way, anyway. I'm the kind of guy who is more worried about what is going on now."

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Nick Catone takes down Costantinos Philippou during their fight at UFC 128. (AP)

Philippou lives in the New York borough of Queens, and thus was able to mostly escape the ravages of Superstorm Sandy. His home was without power for a while and the gym was without it for days.

But despite his upcoming fight, Philippou said he was fortunate. He didn't sustain any damage and was able to continue to train on a pretty much regular basis.

"We lost power at the gym, so we [compensated] by training during the day," Philippou said. "My coaches were all by my side. They made everything possible. They showed up on my schedule, even though they'd lost power. The storm didn't really impact my training because of them and what they were willing to do.

"We're a close team to begin with. We're like a big family over there. Everybody pitched in to help each other the best way they could."

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That work could pay off in a big way should he defeat Ring in Montreal. It's hard to deny a major fight to someone with a five-fight winning streak.

Philippou isn't the type to get ahead of himself, though. He's thankful he's even in the UFC.

He turned pro as a boxer and went 3-0 before leaving the sport after a falling out with a coach. He turned to MMA and was putting together an impressive resume, even if it wasn't particularly fulfilling.

"Being in the UFC changed my life, honestly," he said. "I'm getting paid to fight now. I was able to buy my own house. That's a dream come true for me. I never would have been able to do that were it not for the UFC.

"I fought on the small shows, and yeah, I was a professional, but you're making a couple of hundred dollars. I did it because I loved fighting. Getting that call from the UFC to fight changed everything for me."

As much as things changed by one call, they'll change that much more with an impressive win over Ring.

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