Wayne Phillips: Esther Lin | Sherdog.com
There have been growing and shrinking pains for Wayne Phillips since he has returned from Japan.
The lanky American Kickboxing Academy product had his particular philosophy of how to cut weight for his Dec. 4 welterweight bout against fellow Strikeforce prospect Fernando Bettega. It involved, as most things in the 27-year-old’s life do, a tortuous uphill climb.
For Phillips, whose last two appearances were at middleweight, the Bettega fight is his biggest. It comes at the end of the Sherdog MMA Fighter Exchange campaign that documented the San Jose, Calif., native’s training sojourn to Japan in October. During the trip, he opened up on custody strife over his daughter, complicating his fight preparation and testing his resolve, and the hurdle of his disinterest in eating regenerative foods.
Facing a possible career crossroads at Strikeforce “Henderson vs. Babalu” on Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Phillips figured the Bettega camp ought to be his most dramatically taxing, no matter how unrefined his methods. According to a trainer and teammate, Phillips was in the gym way too much after returning from Japan, drilling during the day, sparring in the afternoon, running on the aerodyne for cardio work at night and then retreating to the sauna with a goal of cutting three pounds a day.
It was a grueling slate, much more grueling than his coaches would ever recommend. But Phillips has always equated suffering with progress.
“That’s how I’ve done things in the past,” he said. “This is kind of like my first real training camp, the first time that I’m actually getting a little bit more direction. I’ve always been big on really pushing myself. Sometimes you can push yourself over the limit. In my mind, it was just me having to push myself more and more. I’m stubborn like that.”
Phillips, who has trained at AKA since 2002, started getting urged to dial it down after head coach Javier Mendez called him out for sluggishness and not being able to turn it up during sparring sessions. Cameras from HDNet’s “Inside MMA” program happened to be touring the gym that day and caught what sounded like a tongue lashing on tape.
“I wasn’t happy, and he needs to step it up,” Mendez told Sherdog.com. “When he’s fresh, he does really well. His preparation for this fight on the cardio level is not where it needs to be.”
Mendez speaks from the perspective of having seen Phillips’ foe in action. Bettega, in his Sherdog MMA Fighter Exchange travels alongside Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, visited AKA and did extensive training there. In Japan, Phillips worked mostly at the J-Rock Workout Studio in Tokyo, where he picked up on the finer points of a Judo-centric grappling style and got in some sparring and rolling with some of the country’s top fighters.
Phillips, a submission specialist with an awkward striking style, traveled to Tokyo with AKA teammate and fledgling Strikeforce middleweight Luke Rockhold, who has taken Phillips under his wing. Rockhold said he went to Mendez with concerns about Phillips looking sluggish in sparring. Rockhold said he grew more distressed when he spotted Phillips in the sauna too far out from the fight.
“It was just way too early for that; you don’t do that until the last couple of days,” Rockhold said. “He’s getting his diet right, but he’s got to get his re-hydration right. You’ve really got to get it down to a science, train at the weight he’s going to fight.”
Mendez and Rockhold had to find this out for themselves. Call Phillips a quiet sufferer.
“They didn’t know what I had been doing to myself,” Phillips said. “That’s why, in their eyes, they just thought I was not turning it up as much.”
This might sound like a crisis for an aspiring fighter with a landmark opportunity ahead of him, but Phillips is strangely comfortable when afflicted. During his training in Japan, he got down on himself for nausea caused by his lack of appetite and a broken nose that limited his exertion when sparring and rolling. The frustration seemed confined to the walls of the gym, though. The fight is different, especially for someone who seemingly finds comfort in discomfort.
“The thing about Wayne -- he’s a fighter; he’s got a fighter’s heart, so he’ll fight no matter what,” Mendez said. “His preparation for this fight is not what I’m looking for in order for him to do as well as he can. We had that talk with him. He’s a good kid. He understands. This might be as big as it ever gets for him.”