When Costa Philippou made his UFC debut against Nick Catone at UFC 128 in March, I was enthusiastic because I felt that Philippou represented a pretty good prospect. Fighting out of the Matt Serra-Ray Longo fight team, Philippou built up a 7-1 record in the Ring of Combat promotion by beating quality opponents such as Victor O’Donnell and Uriah Hall. Even though Philippou had accepted the fight on short notice, it seemed that Catone was the perfect kind of opponent for Philippou to be able to beat.
Oops. Instead, it was Catone who won a clear unanimous decision. Whether it was because of the short notice, the “first-time Octagon jitters,” or because Catone was just the better fighter, Catone got the job done and Philippou went back to the drawing board.
Now, Philippou will get a second chance, at UFC 133 against Jorge Rivera. In fact, this is a short notice fight also, since Philippou is taking the place of Alessio Sakara to face Rivera. But because Philippou was already slated to fight Rafael Natal on the card, he should be well-prepared to fight.
Jorge Rivera… at this point, we know what he has to offer. Rivera is a decent, not great, striker. The 10-year MMA veteran has survived in the UFC by beating fighters at the bottom of the middleweight barrel. His list of UFC wins since UFC 55: Dennis Hallman, Edwin Dewees, Kendall Grove, Nissen Osterneck, Rob Kimmons, and Nate Quarry. Now, Grove and Quarry are respectable enough fighters, but even the Osterneck win had to come by split decision for Rivera. Like it or not, he’s a below-average UFC middleweight at this point, as evidenced by his lopsided UFC 127 defeat to Michael Bisping.
Whether or not Philippou is capable of beating a below-average UFC middleweight is an open question. Victory Score likes his wins against O’Donnell (75.17) and Hall (66.31), but Victory Score is an approximate measure, and given that Victor O’Donnell was unable to fight his way onto the eleventh season of The Ultimate Fighter, it’s likely that O’Donnell isn’t quite the hidden superstar that Victory Score would suggest. It’s not at all unreasonable to say that Rivera will represent Philippou’s toughest opponent yet (besides probably Catone).
SILVA PREDICTION: COSTA PHILIPPOU (34.19) OVER JORGE RIVERA (30.21)
Don’t get me wrong, losing to Nick Catone took quite a bit of wind out of Costa Philippou’s prospect sails. Despite that, I like him to beat the faded Jorge Rivera. Rivera may be able to out-strike Philippou and win by TKO, but at this point, every day that passes by works against Rivera and for Philippou. It’s a tough one to pick, but I’ll go with SILVA’s prediction and take Philippou to get past Rivera.