Filipino-American MMA fighter Phillipe Nover (10-5-1) has been called things such as ‘the next GSP’ and ‘the next Anderson Silva’ by no less than UFC president Dana White who touted the Brooklyn, New York registered nurse with the ‘next GSP’ praise, and by former UFC and Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira who likened him to one of his greatest students in “Spider” Silva during his run on season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter show. With that kind of hype behind him, one has to wonder why Nover – entering his 13th year as a professional fighter – hasn’t become a household name yet in the UFC, nor gets instant mention as one of the top Filipino-blooded mixed martial artists today.
Nover did appear to be on his way to stardom when he faced Efrain Escudero in the lightweight finals of TUF 8 back in December of 2008. Their bout was moved to the main event thanks in large to Nover’s impressive and explosive victories in the show. His first taste of the bright Las Vegas lights didn’t necessarily go down how he had scripted it in his mind, however, as Escudero controlled the first two rounds of the fight with his wrestling and followed an intelligent game plan. Nover came back strong in the final round and almost locked in a submission at the sound the final horn, but simply ran out of time as Escudero ran away with the unanimous decision win and the crown.
What happened next was a string of inopportune events as he suffered a controversial stoppage loss to Kyle Bradley, had a health scare and passed out right before his next fight, then dropped another close decision loss to Rob Emerson in a fight that more than a few respected publications and MMA columnists scored in his favor. And just like that, just two fights after headlining the TUF 8 Finale, “the next GSP” was out of the UFC.
“Tears came to my eyes,” Nover told this scribe in an exclusive interview recently for his return to the UFC in Manila regarding the time he got cut from the UFC. “It was definitely a depressing time in my life. Through adversity though, that’s when you truly see the true character of a man, because that’s when your true colors show, when you’re at the bottom of your life,” Nover added.
Instead of quitting on his MMA dream and settling for the more stable option of just going full-time into his nursing career, Nover, like true champions do in times of failure, went back to the proverbial drawing board to plot his redemption and return to the big stage.
Juggling a full time job as an ER nurse in one of the busiest hospitals in New York, having a herniated disc, plus some personal issues he had to sort out were just some of the thing he had to address. Nover underwent surgery to fix his neck injury, changed training camps and worked on becoming a more complete fighter under the tutelage of Renzo Gracie, Dave Esposito, John Danaher and train with better fighters such as UFC Manila headliner Frankie Edgar to help his cause. And along the way, he still found time to further his nursing career by getting his certification in cardiac care as a registered cardiac invasive specialist, where he helps doctors put stents in people’s hearts.
Hurt by day, heal by night. That was the all too familiar mantra of Nover’s career, not only juggling MMA and nursing, but also going through the highs and lows as a professional fighter. Slowly but surely though, Nover kept working and getting better. He fought in various other MMA outfits like Bellator and is on a three-fight winning streak after defending his Ring of Combat lightweight belt.
After almost five years from getting his marching papers from the UFC, Nover’s dedication finally paid off in the form of a new four-fight UFC contract with more than little extra incentive for his return bout.
“It was my birthday (Feb 3) when my manager called me and said, ‘you’re in the UFC and you’re fighting in Manila, and you have four-fight deal’ and at that point I was doing backflips,” Nover told me with an obvious joy in the tone of his voice, “it was the most euphoric feeling I’ve ever felt – it was the best birthday present.”
The UFC didn’t do Nover any favors though for his first fight back as he will be fighting “The Korean Bulldozer” Yui Chul Nam (18-4-1), a tough Korean who impressively won The Ultimate Fighter in China crown last year. “I expect him to come out there to try to knock my head off,” Nover said. “I’ve seen some of his tapes, he’s kind of wild and I see some holes in his game, but he is a very tough opponent and I expect it to be war out there in Manila.”
Though his time from being called “the next GSP” in his stint at the TUF show seems like ancient history, how fitting is it that Nover’s path back to glory has to go through another fighter that did what he should’ve done a long time ago, which was to win TUF Finale. This matchup has all the makings of a show-stopper this Saturday night at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, and for Nover, it’s a culmination of many years of sacrifice, hard work and perseverance – altogether, it’s simply what dreams are made of.