One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Constantinos Philippou, who squares off with Luke Rockhold at UFC Fight Night 35 on Jan. 15 in Duluth, Ga.

These UFC Fight Night events have come under some criticism in the recent past for having a lack of recognizable fighters taking part. However, the lineup for this event in Georgia features some well-known fighters looking to make the step from middle of the pack towards the top 10 and beyond.

In the opening bout of the night, we see the return of Charlie Brenneman after over a year outside the UFC, during which time he recorded four straight victories. Brenneman has previously faced and beaten fighters who are now considered mainstays within the UFC, such as Rick Story and Jason High, the fighter he replaced on this card.

Further up the card, we have Isaac Vallie-Flagg looking to improve his winning streak to six straight and perhaps also look to do so inside the distance for a change. His last three fights have gone to a split decision, which is not good for the nerves in today’s judging climate.

Next up, Ramsey Nijem looks to halt a two-fight losing streak against Justin Edwards, who is coming off a loss against the rising star that is Brandon Thatch.

As we move onto the main card, we start off with TUF live cast member Sam Sicilia facing a Cole Miller who is seemingly trying to talk his way into bigger fights of late, whether that be taking a leaf out of Chael Sonnen’s book or perhaps a sign of insecurity in his recent record inside the UFC (2-3 in his last 5) is anyone’s guess.

Further up the fight card, we see some promising stars of the future in T.J. Dillashaw, who will no doubt be looking to harness the undoubted confidence that runs through Team Alpha Male at the moment. Then we come to Brad Tavares, who is on a four-fight winning streak, facing off against Lorenz Larkin, the last man to beat welterweight title challenger Robbie Lawler.

All of this is set to take place before we reach the main event of the evening featuring the last ever Strikeforce welterweight champion, Luke Rockhold, against Constantinos Philippou, an established name in the UFC middleweight division.

The Breakdown

Philippou is unquestionably a good stand-up fighter, but his takedown defense or lack thereof was exposed time and again in his recent performance against Francis Carmont.

This was particularly surprising due to the fact that in his fight with Tim Boestch, himself a strong wrestler, Philippou was able to stop the takedown and hurt Boetsch to claim the finish late in the bout. However, in hindsight, it may be the case that the injured hand and depth perception troubles stemming from an eye injury may have nullified the wrestling ability of Boetsch.

It is also important to note that prior to the fight against Carmont, Philippou chose to leave Ray Longo’s gym. In doing so, he perhaps missed out on training with Chris Weidman on a more frequent basis, something which could only have served as a means of improving his takedown defense.

Rockhold, meanwhile, is looking to rebound from his vicious knockout loss to Vitor Belfort in Brazil in May of last year. Prior to that, we saw Rockhold capture the now-defunct Strikeforce middleweight title, beating the likes of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Tim Kennedy and Keith Jardine along the way prior to running into “The Phenom.”

When they enter the Octagon, Rockhold should have the size advantage over Philippou, which may help Rockhold negate the boxing skills of the Cypriot to some degree. When coupled with the leg kicks that we have seen Rockhold utilize in the past, particularly the spinning back kick, this could serve to frustrate Philippou.

The Strategy

In this fight, Philippou will naturally be conscious of the takedown given his last fight, and with good reason. But on the whole, his game plan—to keep the fight standing where possible and look to utilize his boxing prowess—is not going to be any different in this one than it has been throughout.

As noted, Rockhold should have the benefit of a reach advantage, which Philippou must overcome. But given Philippou’s boxing background, this shouldn’t be something that would faze him too much. Philippou will need to close the distance so that he can land the type of devastating uppercut that we saw him land on Boetsch during their fight. This closing of the distance will also aid the Cypriot’s cause in that it won’t give Rockhold room to really extend on his punches or pivot to throw the spinning back kick we saw him display against Jardine during his Strikeforce days.

If Philippou can be wise to the kicking arsenal of Rockhold and look to smother Rockhold as he appears to be setting up such an attack, it will cause Rockhold to pause. These are the kind of moments of which Philippou will need to take advantage.

However, the fight will not simply be won by Philippou moving forward at the first sign of attack from Rockhold. Instead, he will need to ensure that when he moves forward, he doesn’t find himself in the clinch up against the cage for long periods of time. Such a scenario will only wear on Philippou and diminish his stopping power later in the fight.

The keys to victory for Philippou in this fight are effective footwork to move in and out quickly, body punching when he does manage to get underneath Rockhold’s punches. Finally, Philippou must remain vigilant at all times of the takedown, which Rockhold will be looking to exploit given his problems in that area against Carmont.