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14th Mar 2018

SBG’s John Phillips came through Storm Emma swinging to prepare for UFC debut

There's a reason why they call him 'the White Mike Tyson'

Ben Kiely

John Phillips

John Phillips is as much up for the craic as he is up for cracking skulls.

On first meeting, John Phillips comes across as a genuine gas fucker. If there’s a punchline available, he will swiftly seize it. A simple question about his origins in the fistic arts resulted in a brazen response that encapsulated his personality.

The Welshman reckons he had an epiphany before he even entered this world. With a wry smile washed across his face, he claimed that he was punching, not kicking inside his mother’s womb.

“She didn’t notice that I was punching lumps out of her. So I knew from then that I was going to be a fighter.”


It seems fitting that on a day where the world celebrates a man who is thought to have been born in Wales, a Swansea native who trains out of Dublin will invade London to announce himself to the wider world. Although his debut promises to be an eye-opener for a lot of fans, it really has been a long time coming.

‘The White Mike Tyson’ has been dusting fools, almost exclusively in the first round, for over a decade. He was supposed to make his promotional debut in 2017, but a nasty mixture of visa issues and injuries have delayed his coming out party.

Turning awkwardly while throwing a stick into the Irish Sea for his dog to retrieve aggravated persistent issues with his ACL and meniscus. After undergoing keyhole surgery, he is fighting fit and ready to claim his winning lottery ticket.

“We knew it was eventually going to come, so it doesn’t matter when it was going to come, you know, but yeah it was fantastic just having that feeling. I should imagine it’s almost like having that winning lottery ticket and then going to cash it in and then giving you a big bag of money, you know? So it was fantastic.”

Humble Dwellings

No one can question Phillips’ commitment. As well as enduring a seemingly Sisyphean wait before finally make that walk to the Octagon, he has made other sacrifices. Most notably, in his abode. Fire hazards and safety concerns put the kibosh on his campervan at the back of SBG. However, John Kavanagh has been generously allowing him to stay in a caravan in his back garden.

“I’m living in the caravan by myself, but sometimes some of my teammates come over to help me prep for the fight. They stay with me sometimes, and some other fighters that stay with John. It’s great, it’s like actually being in a UFC fighter house.”

“Everyone’s constantly training, everyone’s thinking about eating right, training right, sleeping right, so it’s great to be around people of the same mentality. They all got the same goal, they all want to fight, they all want to get into the UFC or whatever. It’s surreal, it’s still surreal. I still have to pinch myself and look at where I am.”

The Beast From the East

Although he’s not suggesting Emma is a ‘pussy name,’ Phillips doesn’t believe it was an apt moniker for the worst storm to hit Ireland in over 30 years. Storm Emma packed a punch he simply didn’t see coming.

“Storm killer Emma, they should have called her or something. Everyone would have been ready on the island for Storm Killer Emma. But no, Storm Emma, everyone’s thinking what’s Emma going to do? She came over and smashed the shit out of Ireland.”

He admitted that he could have easily said, ‘Right I’m not going to train now,’ when Emma clasped the country shut in her icy fingers. However, he wasn’t going to allow mother nature to bring hinder his training. Not while the biggest fight of his career was drawing closer.

“I was literally snowed in. I’ve never seen snow so bad in my life. Some places the snow was 15 foot tall, but I still made sure I got out. I tried to do my runs where possible and my shadow boxing, pummelling in the garden and doing wrestling in the garden and we actually found an abandoned carpark and we actually trained in an abandoned carpark. It was like a scene from Rocky and it was like a scene from some sort of bareknuckle fight show or something.”

Straight Blast Gym

It took a while for Phillips to settle at SBG Ireland. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that he finished two of its stablemates, Chris Fields and Charlie Ward, before joining. After getting over the initial awkwardness, he has been very much accepted as part of the team.

“I think when I first came over to SBG, a lot of people didn’t know how to take me or how to approach me and thought I was a bit of a horrible bastard. Now, I’ve been here for over two-and-a-half years, I’ve been part of the family now, so I know everyone on a first name basis. They all know me and we all sort of bounce off each other.”

Inside the gym, head coach Kavanagh is the man everyone looks up to. Phillips spoke wistfully about his namesake’s nitpicking and constant fine-tuning his fighters’ games. If a move isn’t executed to absolute perfection, Kavanagh will let you know all about it.

“The guy constantly influences everyone here because he’s so on you. He’s on every single fighter here – how to do this, ‘oh you’ve done that good today, John but, you could do it better. This is how you would do it better.’ You’ve gone cold on this today. Alright, let’s work on that,’ ‘You didn’t do this too good’… he’s just constantly on you. The man doesn’t sleep. He’s always pushing for perfection.”


It’s tough work to keep making strides at this level, but the team spirit inside SBG has made things easier for the Welshman. He had never experienced this kind of environment before coming to Dublin.

“It helps, you’re coming in and enjoying your day, you’re having a laugh with everyone and that’s the most important thing. If you come in here and it feels like work and you’re not enjoying it, you’re not going to do it. When you come in here and you’re having fun, everyone is having fun, and we’re still hitting lumps out of each other, but you’re learning and it’s a laugh. It doesn’t feel like work then.”

Phillips makes his promotional debut against fellow newcomer Charles Byrd at UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs Volkov. The fight goes down in London’s O2 Arena on Saturday, March 17. It will be available to watch on FightPass and BT Sport.