Contender Series: Kyler Phillips Ready to Introduce the World to “The Matrix”
When “Suga” Sean O’Malley decimated Ronda Rousey‘s training partner Alfred Khashakyan two weeks ago on the second edition of “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series” it served as yet another reminder that the MMA Lab in Glendale, AZ is a true MMA powerhouse. Under head coach John Crouch, “the Lab” is home to numerous top-tier mixed martial artists such as Benson Henderson, John Moraga, Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres, and Bryan Barbarena just to name a few. O’Malley’s performance was one of, if not the most, memorable performance in the brief history of the UFC Fight Pass original, “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.” Two weeks later, O’Malley still has MMA fans, media members, fighters and coaches, buzzing about his fight. However, he isn’t the only one from the MMA Lab who is looking to make a statement in front of the likes of Dana White, Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard this summer.
Enter “The Matrix”. 22 year-old Torrance, California native Kyler Phillips (4-0) has been a life-long martial artist. In 1998, he began his journey towards MMA greatness at just three years of age, when his father signed him up for jiu jitsu classes at the Gracie Academy in Torrance. From there, Phillips began to enter competitions. It didn’t take long for Phillips to ultimately fall in love with all of the different aspects of martial arts, whether it be taekwando, boxing, freestyle greco wrestling or even the diverse martial art of nikidokai, which Phillips calls “life-changing”. Four amateur bouts and four professional MMA fights later, Kyler Phillips finds himself on the doorstep of the UFC. In the professional four fight stretch, Phillips has fought for both the CXF and LFA promotions, winning four fights in his first 14 months of his professional career.
In his last bout, Phillips defeated Combate Americas veteran Jonathan Quiroz in decisive fashion to earn the unanimous nod of all three cageside judges. Following the bout, Phillips and his team had a hunch that a UFC opportunity, in some form, may be coming their way. “Sean Shelby was there, and my manager Jason House and John Crouch were there talking to him,” recalls Phillips. “I knew something was coming. I knew someone had eyes on me.” A few days later, Phillips celebrated his 22nd birthday weekend by traveling to his girlfriend’s cabin in Forest Lake, CA to kick back, relax and do some fishing. On June 12th, Phillips’s actual birthday, he would receive one of the best birthday presents he could ask for, a call from the UFC. The UFC called to extend an offer to him to compete on the “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.” Phillips couldn’t have been happier, but had to keep the news on the “down-low” until it was officially announced, which was tough. He did of course, make sure call his parents right away to let them know, as it was something he says they had been planning for almost his entire life.
“I’ve just gotten used to the whole UFC environment. It’s kind of like a small gathering of the UFC organization. I feel like next week I’m going to be super comfortable, and super loose. It’s going to make me be impressive and it’s going to help me take this guy out.”
Phillips gives all of the credit in the world to the aforementioned MMA Lab for his success thus far. “I think just being there helps. When people come to ‘The Lab’ and they see faces they’ve seen on TV, and then they have those people guide them, it just helps the get more comfortable,” explains Phillips. “For me, sparring on Saturdays consists of everyone watching me. Benson [Henderson] is watching me, Crouch is watching me and a ton of other UFC fighters are watching me too. I’ve just gotten used to the whole UFC environment. It’s kind of like a small gathering of the UFC organization. I feel like next week, I’m going to be super comfortable, and super loose. It’s going to make me be impressive, and it’s going to help me take this guy out. There’s such a good balance of people there.” For this camp, Phillips’s main training partners have consisted of Alex Caceres, Augusto Mendes, Bobby Moffett, Glen Baker, and James Nakashima, just to name a few.
“I’m going to unplug him from the system. I’m the matrix, so when people step across the cage from me, they’re stepping into my world. control their thoughts and actions. It’s my game. I control the system and I control the game, so I have fun with it. At the end of the day, we just unplug him from the system, and get that contract.”
As far as an opponent goes for August 1st, Phillips will be taking on Pennsylvania native James “The Phenom” Gray (4-1) live on UFC Fight Pass. “This is a very, very scary matchup for him. In his head I know he’s shitting bricks,” says Phillips. When hearing what Phillips plans for Gray on Tuesday night, it becomes apparent that he was really adopted “The Matrix” nickname, which appears to be not only an epithet, but a mindset as well. “I’m going to unplug him from the system. I’m the matrix, so when people step across the cage from me, they’re stepping into my world,” explains Phillips. “I control their thoughts and actions. It’s my game. I control the system and I control the game, so I have fun with it. At the end of the day, we just unplug him from the system, and get that contract.”
Phillips doesn’t view fighting on the bigger stage as being more of a pressure-situation, but instead just views it as more of a challenge. “If somebody gets a good finish before me, it’s just going to give me a little push that I need. It’s times like these that I need to be all in,” says Phillips. “I’ve got to give a one-hundred percent performance, no matter what. Even if you slip you’ve got to get back up. I’m basically going out like I’m trying to get a $50,000 bonus. I feel like if someone is going to get it done that night, it’s going to be me!” Phillips believes that his well-rounded game mixed with his sensational athleticism will really set him apart. “I’m super athletic. I can parkour run off the walls and do crazy flips,” says Phillips. “I have speed, power, and technical abilities in every area. I’m very versatile and my stand-up is beyond anybody’s in the 135lb division, so it’s going to be a fun day!”
Video Credit: SuperHumanEx
The distinct nickname itself was given to Phillips by his father, and dates back to when Phillips was in middle school. Phillips was so athletically advanced for his age that everything he drilled became second-nature. Phillips feels that the nickname has only become more accurate with time. He often feels he is two steps ahead of his partner when he is on the mat, guiding them into a trap. “It’s like I’m already ten steps ahead. It’s like I’m in a different dimension. Everyone is in this 3-D world, well I’m in this 20-D world,” laughs Phillips.
In his free time, Phillips has a number of hobbies, but is able to draw parallels between fighting and one hobby in particular: playing the piano. “My mom started me playing piano when I was younger. I’ve played probably 10-11 years now. I’ve had a lot of different instructors and have done a bunch of recitals. The beauty of the art is similar to jiu jitsu. Everything is so smooth, and the timing and the metronome is just like my stand-up, my jiu jitsu, etc. I feel like starting that at a young age helped my mind get to the matrix. Competing so much, wanting to get better, and wanting to grow has helped me get that drive more calculated and focused.”
“He’s going to get knocked out and unplugged from the system #TakeTheRedPill.”
When asked for his final prediction on how he saw the bout ending with James Gray, Phillips responded with an answer that only “The Matrix” could give, “He’s going to get knocked out and unplugged from the system #TakeTheRedPill.” It seems that on Tuesday night, James Gray will have his hands full as he looks to be the first man to escape “The Matrix” that is Kyler Phillips. Tune in to UFC Fight Pass on Tuesday night to see if the sequel to “The Matrix” will be in the UFC, or if James Gray will cancel it before it even begins!
Kyler Phillips vs. James Gray takes place Tuesday August 1st, live on UFC Fight Pass at 8pm EST. It will be the fourth bout on the card, and serve as the night’s co-main event.
Check out some of Kyler Phillips’s insane flips below: