|A Son's Dedication|
For Wayne Phillips, it really started at home with his dad. The longtime security officer loved him some boxing, and he sparked a connection with combat in his only child.
“That was who I saw the very first UFC with, was my dad,” said Phillips, 27. “He didn’t really watch any football or baseball or anything like that. It was always, like, combat stuff. When we would go to school and people would ask me who my favorite team is, I really didn’t have an answer for them.”
What he did know was that UFC 1 in 1993 gave him direction. He took up wrestling at his high school in San Jose, and after graduating, walked into American Kickboxing Academy to round out his skills. Working alongside the likes of Jon Fitch, Josh Thomson and Mike Kyle, Phillips was well-positioned to make a run in MMA.
Wayne Phillips, Sr., died in 2006. He never saw his son fight professionally, but had an idea where he was headed and endorsed it. Phillips dedicated his first pro fight to his father, a first-round rear-naked choke victory on July 24, 2007.
Wayne Phillips passed time on the 747 watching his “Best of Pride Fighting Championships Knockouts” DVD on his PSP. He could watch Wanderlei Silva drop Quinton “Rampage” Jackson with a knee from the plum clinch all day.
“It’s to get me in the mood,” he said. “That was just, like, a timeless knockout.”
He also packed some of his favorite comics. After “Alien vs. Predator,” he cracks open the first “Wolverine” series, which sees the hero travel to Japan in pursuit of a lost love. He left off as Wolverine unwittingly began taking out crime lords.
“Trying to get his honor back,” he said. “It's pretty interesting.”
In between a turkey sandwich and some old school rock on the in-flight radio, Phillips did manage to get some sleep, seated next to a Japanese stranger with his training partner, Luke Rockhold, on the other end. Phillips was out for a good four hours, plenty of rest for a guy who once worked the FedEx graveyard shift from 3 to 9 a.m. and made practice by noon.
“That's about all I need,” he said.
|Long Trip Ahead|
The furthest Wayne Phillips has ever flown was from his San Jose home to Cancun, Mexico, for a 2001 vacation.
Now, he's looking at a trans-Pacific flight from California to Tokyo’s Narita Airport ahead of a training excursion at the J-Rock Workout Studio. The roughly 14 hours of flying ahead don't concern him, but he needs to be mindful of one thing in particular if he's going to maximize the benefits of his training.
"I've got to get my sleep straight," he said.
He'll be tired. Phillips said he was tossing and turning with anticipation last night after an adrenaline-pumping night at the Strikeforce fights.
Phillips' training partner and mentor on the trip, Luke Rockhold, is also looking forward to some slumber. Wearing shades and a cap, the dapper Rockhold confirmed that he'd had a bit of a wild night, knowing a long flight lay ahead of him.
|Excitement Mounts As The Journey Begins|
Phillips gets really animated when a teammate is fighting. American Kickboxing Academy mainstay Josh Thomson gets hearty applause as the mohawked Phillips moves to the edge of his seat.
He's silent for the opening frame of Thomson’s fight until his teammate breaks out of a “JZ” Cavalcante guillotine attempt.
“That's right!” Phillips shouts. “We practice those defenses all the time,” he added, almost as if he's surprised and delighted to see the gym scene recreated in the cage.
Phillips mutters words of encouragement as Thomson’s fight with Cavalcante unfolded. There's no way Thomson can hear him.
“I want him to listen to (AKA coach Bob Cook), mainly,” Phillips said. “That's the only guy you can hear in there anyways. My family members will cheer me in a fight and say, 'Did you hear us?' And I'll say, 'No, I was listening to my corner.’”
Wayne Phillips has his Herschel Walker story. The football legend has been training MMA at American Kickboxing Academy lately, and has been collecting respect, according to Phillips.
"He caught me with a kick right in my nose, ended up fracturing it in a couple of spots," he said. "He's definitely putting it all together now."
Phillips kind of knows how K.J. Noons feels. His second fight was in Nick Diaz' hometown of Stockton, Calif., about an hour from San Jose. There, he beat a Stockton kid with a triangle in the first round -- and Phillips felt the wrath.
“They were pissed,” he said. “I kind of went along with it, making faces at them. They were hating me.”
Well, not all of them. A lot of Phillips' family is from Stockton, which may have had something to do with why he rose to his feet as Diaz marched to the cage on Saturday night for his rematch with Noons. He shook his girlfriend's shoulders excitedly as the house lights went down for the pre-main event pomp and circumstance. He cackled, knowingly, as Noons was heavily booed.
It almost looked like Phillips was drilling head movement as he searched for the best angle to observe the tactical striking war between Diaz and Noons. When the final bell rang, he stood and applauded.
While Phillips loves watching fights, he loves being inside the cage even more. He's about to develop a deeper sense of the sport which had him transfixed for hours here in San Jose, as he heads to Japan in the morning for the first time to train.
|Love for Fights and Ava|
Wayne Phillips arrives at the H.P. Pavillion with his girlfriend, Natalie, just as the evening’s final preliminary fight wraps up. His last outing was in the same position on a Strikeforce Challengers card in February.
“Some guys, you know, they stop watching the fights,” he said of pro fighters. “I love watching fights because that's what got me into it. I'll never stop being a fan.”
Phillips, a San Jose native, has been attending Strikeforce cards since the late 1990s, when the promotion ran exclusively kickboxing events.
"Ever since they starting having MMA over here in San Jose, I haven't missed any of them," he said.
Phillips is picking Nick Diaz to win over K.J. Noons in the main event.
“Just because of his jiu-jitsu,” Phillips reasoned. “We'll see what happens, but I'm going with Nick.”
As Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen enter the Strikeforce cage, Phillips thinks of his five-year-old daughter Ava, his only child.
"She sees what I'm doing already, I'll bring her to the gym," he said. "She'll come and grab my legs and try for takedowns. I'll always teach her stuff to take care of herself."
Ava, whose name Phillips has tattooed on the inside of his right wrist, is staying with her mother as dad travels to Japan. He tried to explain to Ava where that was by saying it was on the other side of the ocean.
"She was kind of blown away by how far that was," he said. "I was telling her how Godzilla and Hello Kitty are over there. She was asking me if I was going to go see them."
|Wayne Phillips - Bio|
Though he didn’t make his professional mixed martial arts debut until 2007, Wayne Phillips has been one of the longest-running trainees at the renowned American Kickboxing Academy.
Phillips began training at AKA in 2002 alongside a then little-known Jon Fitch, who was also preparing for his MMA debut that year.
“The way I look at it is: I’ve been at AKA almost as long as I’ve been at regular school,” Phillips says.
The 27-year-old middleweight carries a 4-3 career record, his losses coming by way of scrappy decisions which could have earned him “Fight of the Night” bonuses, were such bonuses in the budget of the regional shows he’s fought on. The submission-savvy San Jose native places a premium on entertaining the masses, a philosophy which will suit him well in the spectator-conscious MMA culture of Japan.
Phillips, along with AKA teammate Luke Rockhold, will embark on an autumn training journey to Tokyo’s J-Rock Workout Studio, a gym operated by Olympic judo gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida and home to fighters such as Michihiro Omigawa, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Maximo Blanco.