Phillipe Nover wants nothing more than to put Sept. 16, 2009 behind him -- far, far behind him.
A finalist on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8, Nover will tangle with Robert Emerson in a preliminary lightweight match at UFC 109 “Relentless” this Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Only then will he begin to permanently fade the memory of that frightening late summer night in Oklahoma City.
Scheduled to meet Canadian striker Sam Stout, Nover never made it to the cage. He collapsed backstage prior to the UFC Fight Night 19 bout, and though he only remained unconscious for “about five seconds,” enough concern followed to force the cancellation of the fight. A battery of tests were conducted on the Brooklyn, N.Y., native. All returned clear. Strangely, there were no red flags.
“I went to pretty much every specialist,” Nover says. “I saw a neurologist, had an MRI, got a CAT scan, and everything came out negative. They even sent me to a cardiologist. Basically, my body is 100 percent normal. They suspect it was a combination of the weight cut and me gorging myself [after the weight cut], along with anxiety.”
Perhaps most troubling, it was the second such incident to strike Nover since he arrived on the UFC scene. He also collapsed during the season premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter.” As a result, Nover plans to stay closer to the 156-pound threshold for lightweights in order to avoid any serious weight cuts. Less than a month out from the Emerson bout, he tipped the scales at 162.
“I’m cleared to fight,” Nover says. “I’m going to make sure it never happens again. It wasn’t a seizure. They think I just fainted. I’m not worried about it. In the back of my mind, I think about it, but I’m doing all the things I can to make sure it does not happen again. If you keep thinking about it, it’s going to happen.”
Nover recalls the moments that led up to the second episode. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, at least at first.
“I felt pretty good,” he says. “I went out to the cage, moved around a little bit, came backstage and remember for a split second not feeling good. I think I told one of my guys, ‘I feel like I can’t catch my breath.’ That’s when I lost consciousness.”
When he regained his senses, a small group of people had gathered above him. Concern filled the room.
“I remember people repeating, ‘Phillipe, wake up,’” Nover says. “It took a few minutes before I could get up. Then, I was like, ‘Oh, s--t. I’ve got to fight,’ but the commission didn’t allow that. They wanted me to get checked out. That was the right thing to do. I felt ashamed, even though I had no control over it.”
Company officials, led by UFC Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva, rushed backstage to ease his dejection, as did Stout.
“Right after the incident, Joe came down and told me, ‘Don’t worry about it,’” Nover says. “When Stout came backstage, his hands were already taped. He told me, ‘Hey, it’s not your fault.’ Stout’s a gentleman. I remember breaking down in tears.”
With the fainting spells hopefully in his rearview mirror, Nover has turned his attention to Emerson, a durable lightweight who has never been knocked out. His .500 record masks a dangerous competitor who has been seasoned by fights with former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver, current UFC lightweight contender Gray Maynard and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 runner-up Manny Gamburyan. In fact, Emerson sent Gamburyan down to featherweight and into the World Extreme Cagefighting talent pool with a 12-second knockout at UFC 87.
“Emerson’s a tough guy,” Nover says. “He’s fought guys at a high level and goes to a decision with them a lot of times. He has experience over me.”
Nover, who turns 26 this week, knows what will be on the line when he sets foot in the Octagon for the first time in nine months. With back-to-back losses on his ledger, he can ill afford another misstep. Still, he has gone to great lengths to maintain proper balance and perspective.
“It’s extremely important; this is my life right now,” Nover says. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure going into this fight, but I’m focused on having fun. I kind of lost that. This is important, but I’ve got a lot going on in my life.”
Adversity forced Nover to look inward.
“You learn more than anything from a loss,” he says. “I learned the hard way. I put so much pressure on myself, and it wasn’t a good feeling. I do this because I want to do this. I do this because I love it. I have to remind myself of that.”
Nover views his UFC 109 slot as a first step towards recapturing his momentum.
“I’m really excited. 2009 was not a good year for me,” he says. “Coming off the show, I had that controversial loss [to Kyle Bradley] and wasn’t able to get in the cage with Stout. It was kind of a trifecta of negativity. I’m so focused right now. I feel like I’m unstoppable.”