By Michael Mack
After a long layoff, Rider graduate and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran Nick Catone made his return to the octagon last Saturday when the UFC came to the Prudential Center in Newark.
UFC is the world’s biggest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) company and fights take place in an eight-sided cage.
Catone was scheduled to take on fellow New Jersey native Dan Miller, until an injury on the card forced Miller to fill in for another fighter. After a 14-month break because of injury, Catone was suddenly without an opponent again.
“I woke up and got a text message; I was worried they were going to bump me from the card,” Catone said.
But he refused to let that happen.
UFC matchmaker Joe Silva explained to Catone that there was only one man he could get to fight on such short notice, and that the fight would have to be at 195 lbs., 10 lbs. heavier than Catone was planning on. He didn’t hesitate, however. He wanted to fight and the date was set.
Catone, a former Division I wrestler at Rider with four UFC fights under his belt, took on Costa Philippou, a fighter known for his heavy hands and dangerous striking making his UFC debut.
“My preparation was still the same,” Catone said. “Miller is more of a grappler, while Costa is a striker. But there wasn’t much film on him.”
Finding tape on a fighter with no experience in a major organization can be a tough thing to do, so Catone was somewhat in the dark about his new opponent. But still, he knew what he had to do.
When fight night finally rolled around, it was obvious who the hometown favorite was. Catone received an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd as he made his way to the cage. Chants of “Jersey Devil,” Catone’s nickname, rang through the arena.
“I heard the chants from the crowd while I was in the cage,” Catone said. “It was nice to have that support on such a big stage.”
The referee signaled to the two fighters to begin, and finally Catone was in another UFC bout.
He opened up cautiously. Knowing that Philippou was a heavy-handed striker, Catone was in no rush to exchange punches.
The beginning of the fight was without much action, but eventually Catone pushed his opponent to the cage and landed a knee. When the two separated, Philippou landed some shots of his own. Catone later landed a straight right that most likely hurt himself more than his opponent.
“I went into the fight with my hand a little banged up,” Catone said. “But I broke it late in that first round.”
That didn’t slow him down, however. The former Rider wrestler went back to his roots and scored a takedown. Once on the ground, though, Catone was unable to use his right hand to its full effect.
“I felt a short pain and pins and needles,” Catone said. “But then adrenaline kicked in and I ignored my hand and used my elbows.”
His elbows proved to be very effective. He landed one to the forehead of Philippou that opened up a small gash. By the time the round had ended, it was obvious who was winning the fight.
In the second round, Catone wanted to pick up where he left off, but Philippou defended the takedowns well. Catone tried some other ideas, including some knees and a couple of high kicks that landed strongly.
“I’ve been working on my muay thai for quite some time now,” Catone said. “I had a long layoff, so I had a lot of time to work on things.”
Eventually, Catone scored another takedown before the end of the second round.
In the third and final round, Catone was able to get the takedown early and control the rest of the fight. He was able to land some big strikes without really using his right hand. By the end of the fight it was almost obvious who had won.
“I was pretty confident,” Catone said. “But you never know when you leave it in the judges hands.”
After the decision was rendered, the announcement was made that Catone had won his third UFC fight by a unanimous decision, which means that all three judges felt that he won the fight.
Now that Catone has that win under his belt, he will have some time to rest his broken hand.
“I’m stuck in a cast for four weeks,” Catone said. “Then we’ll see how it feels. Maybe I’ll be ready to go to a brace, but if not they’ll put a cast back on.”
Until then, Catone will be teaching at Nick Catone’s MMA, his school in his hometown of Brick, N.J.
“I obviously can’t train right now, so I’ll just be teaching for a while,” Catone said.
When he is finally healed up, Catone is not sure exactly what’s next for him in the UFC. What he does know is that he will be getting married this summer.
“I heard there is a possibility of a local UFC event this summer,” Catone said. “But I’ll be getting married and be going on a honeymoon so I’m not sure I’ll be ready.”
Whenever he is ready though, Catone will step into the cage with whoever the UFC puts in front of him.
“I’m willing to fight anyone,” he said. “I’m here to fight the best.”
By Michael Mack