For a quiet kid from San Jose, it was a trip to walk a red carpet at a Hollywood video game release party and have people snap his picture and want to interview him. Equally trippy to shake hands with top fighters whose fights he watches with as much fervency as we do, ready to leap from his seat when a game changing punch, kick of knee lands.
But the biggest takeaway point from the experience was the credence it lent to his pursuit of a dream of being a successful and sought-after mixed martial arts fighter, a dream it would have been much easier to give up on than pursue as his personal life got more and more complicated.
“I got to talk to people that I had been watching for a long time and seeing that, it started to come more into light what I want for my career and where I want to be,” Phillip said. “That’s the whole goal in the first place, to be taken seriously and just try to and move forward in my career.”
|Are You Kidding?|
Come on. Now you’re just rubbing it in.
It pained one to watch hungry Strikeforce middleweight Luke Rockhold stand idly by as top Japanese fighters trained diligently. Due to a shoulder injury that could easily be aggravated, Rockhold had to resist the temptation to jump in and feel out some of the notables on the mat, especially top guys at his weight like Yushin Okami, who was rolling at the J-Rock Workout Studio his first day in Tokyo.
To some degree Rockhold couldn’t help himself, kicking the nearest heavy bag until his shoulder started to ache. But it wasn’t anything near the work he would have put if he were healthy. Dude apparently loves to train.
After returning home to California, he thought that was over, that the unscratched itch wasn’t a problem anymore. Then he got a call. One of the greatest fighters who ever lived, Fedor Emelianenko, was in town and was looking for someone to train with.
“I’m like, are you kidding me man?” Rockhold said. “Come on.”
Sure, Luke Rockhold just watched his virtual self tooled like some amateur on the “EA MMA” video game. His confidant Wayne Phillips, who played as Nick Diaz, had just beat him time and again playing as Nick Diaz.
“Wayne being the avid gamer he is, little game nerd, he had to put in some serious hours on the demo,” Rockhold said. “And I didn’t even know about the demo.”
The mellow, surfing Santa Cruz-bred middleweight talked as if he could care less. Nick Diaz couldn’t take me down in real life, he thought (“I shouldn’t even have to defend that,” he said). The game is flawed, he told himself.
But wait, this was the launch party for the video game. The engineers who made it are here. Perhaps Rockhold could actually see Phillips humbled at the console.
“The EA guys were trying to help me, but I couldn’t match Wayne,” Rockhold said.
“One of EA guys stepped in and f***** handled Wayne pretty nicely. It felt really good. I was riding high after that.”
You can find Wayne Phillips in the club, but only under one condition. If there’s a place to play video games.
The gaming nut was all about the couches and televisions offered guests to the “EA MMA” launch party in Los Angeles the chance to play its new fight game for as long as they’d like. While others sipped drinks, watched girls danced and tried to look cool, Phillips was button mashing with Luke Rockhold, his teammate at American Kickboxing Academy and training mentor in his visit to Japan. They played each other in Street Fighter there, and Phillips handled him.
“Luke was telling me all kinds of crap on the plane about how I should start getting ready because this isn’t Street Fighter; he said that he was going to get me,” Phillips said. “The first thing we did was sit down and play the game. He was himself and I was Nick Diaz. And I beat him down four times in a row.”
Fair enough, but this wasn’t some Tokyo arcade. The actual guys who made the game were hanging around the launch party. Rockhold had reinforcements.
Wayne Phillips was still on Japan time when he arrived at his Los Angeles hotel, and with the EA Sports launch party for “EA MMA” still several hours away, he did what he likes to. He took a walk.
He browsed the shops, took a picture of the Hollywood sign. The scenery wasn’t exotic to the San Jose native. It wasn’t all wide-eyed amusement like it was during his week-plus training stint in Japan, a country whose marketing, television and culture captured his imagination.
But as it turned out, L.A. had something Japan didn’t, something that could stop Wayne Phillips in his tracks .
“I saw my favorite fighter of all time crossing the street,” Phillips. “It was Fedor, Fedor and his manager crossing the street.”
Legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko of Russia was in town as part of the EA MMA promotional festivities. While vaunted in the MMA world and gracing the new video game’s cover, he can fly under the radar walking American streets. Unless Wayne Phillips is crossing the street.
“He looked kind of surprised that somebody recognized who he was,” Phillips said. “I asked him real quick I could take a picture with him. He was a nice guy. I told him I’d see him after at the launch party. Later on I never saw him over there. I lucked out.”
Wayne Phillips is going to settle a day or two back in the States, recounting the lessons he picked up training in Japan on solo walks he likes to take. Then it’s back to American Kickboxing Academy with a tunnel focus on his Dec. 4 fight against Fernando Bettega.
“I just want to stay with this momentum of training just into fight camp,” he said. “I want to kick it into high gear.”
That won’t be difficult. The San Jose camp is home to some of MMA’s finest, from Jon Fitch to Cain Velasquez to Josh Koscheck to Josh Thomson to Mike Swick. You get the idea.
“I’m not going to be fighting anybody as tough as Fitch or Kos,” Phillips said. “Having me go against them every day kind of gets you ready for that intensity and fighting at that high caliber level. I just don’t want to have any regrets. Make sure that on December 4, it’s just the best Wayne Phillips that can possibly be out there.”