At UFC 259 this weekend, highly touted prospect Yadong Song is making his long-awaited return after a streak of questionable decisions in his favor. Well-known for his electric striking, Song has quickly become a fan favorite. He makes his return against a fighter who is lesser known than him, which has lead to many fans counting his opponent out. His opponent is Kyler “The Matrix” Phillips (8-1, 2-0 UFC). To count him out will be your undoing.

A surface-level look at Phillips paints a picture that is impossible to ignore. With his two fights in the promotion, he has put on flawless showings each time out. His stats are nothing short of incredible, 6.28 significant strikes landed per minute (SLpM), 66% striking defense, 2.79 takedowns per 15 minutes with 66% accuracy, and only 2.05 significant strikes absorbed per minute to give him an absurd strike differential of 4.23! But you didn’t click on this to hear about stats you can pull from the same website I did. Without any further ado, let’s enter the matrix.

To say Phillips fights in an unorthodox manner would be an understatement. Phillips uses a variety of unorthodox tactics, yet they all stem from his movement. Phillips employs elite footwork and movement which allows him to maneuver the cage at a faster pace than most of his opponents and pick his shots and land them. Throughout this article, I’m going to rewatch Phillips’ short two-fight UFC career and showcase the skills of this one-of-a-kind martial artist. Without any further ado, let’s head to Norfolk, Virginia, where a debuting Kyler Phillips is taking on Gabriel Silva.

Within the first 30 seconds, Phillips throws a flying knee and throws a wheel kick, 30 seconds that is indicative of the way Phillips fights. Immediately, Phillips showcases elite lateral cage movement against Silva, which is something he does in all of his fights. Silva’s clear gameplan is to pressure Phillips against the cage and use his power shots and grappling to tire him out and finish the fight.

Because of Phillips’ lateral movement (or Silva’s inability to effectively cage-cut), he is able to circle the cage and land counters on Silva every time he tries to enter. Silva’s disadvantage here comes because he has one range when Phillips has two. Silva is a bruiser, trying to bully his opponents in close range but what he doesn’t realize is that Phillips is just as adept in close range as he is on the outside.

On the outside, the gap between Silva and Phillips simply isn’t comparable. Phillips has an arsenal of kicks at his disposal, such as calf kicks, body kicks, and his signature wheel kick. Phillips’ jab is also a huge weapon, often using it to set up combinations, such as kick combos or his punch flurries that are common throughout his fights. Silva in the second round, probably from the musings of his coaches, realizes that he cannot win this fight on the feet and that he must take Phillips down.

Immediately in the second and throughout the round, Silva is trying to work on the ground. This shows us the high-level grappling Phillips has. Phillips plays a high risk-high reward game on the ground, as he is constantly moving and trying to advance position. This becomes crucial for him in a moment midway into the second round. Silva has scored a takedown and passed Phillips’ guard into side control. Phillips needs to escape.

With Silva trying to obtain side control, Phillips turns into Silva to regain the agency of his hands
Now able to use his arms and legs, Phillips reaches out to grab the leg of Silva to pull into him, creating a momentum break to shift his weight on top of Silva
Abandoning the reversal, Phillips elects to stand up, raising his hips. Silva gets a crossbody grip and puts his leg in between Phillips’, trying to break his balance and force him back to the mat. With the far hook in, if Silva brings this down he will get the back
Silva neglects the close leg of Phillips, allowing Phillips to push off with it. Since Silva only has one leg planted, as he was trying to get a hook in, Phillips is able to use his momentum to fall down and get on top of Silva

Gabriel Silva is no slouch on the ground, a well-respected BJJ Black Belt. Getting outgrappled in this exchange shows the creativity of Phillips. As Phillips adeptly takes the back, Silva is able to roll through, a move which would lead a lesser grappler to be in real danger. Phillips recognizes the roll immediately and is able to plant his hand on the mat to retain balance. Phillips then uses that hand to press his own weight back into Silva, stopping him from completing the roll through. With both hands planted now, Phillips is able to swing his leg out Silva’s and he’s able to swing around fully into mount.

Considering Phillips isn’t a black belt, it makes the skill of his grappling transitions all that more impressive. From the top, Phillips is wise to everything Silva attempts. Phillips has now beaten him at his own game, now effectively owning every facet of the fight. In holding this top position, he has this fight all but won. Silva has nothing for him.

Gabriel Silva is a beaten man and he opens the third round as such. Lazily walking forward and winging telegraph overhands, Phillips’ success in the grappling exchanges has dawned the realization of relative hopelessness in Silva. Already having a dominant performance, Phillips isn’t content. In his fights, Phillips likes to make statements and his statement here is to take down and sub Silva.

This ultimately is unsuccessful and thankfully so, as we get to see another example of Phillips’ gorgeous duck counters. Multiple times throughout the fight, Silva throws huge telegraphed overhands and hooks which Phillips is able to duck under and throw a hook to the exposed side of the head.

Silva fires an overhand, but Phillips is easily able to duck under. Phillips plants his legs and presses on his back leg, preparing to generate power through it
Phillps drives off of his back leg and directs it through a nasty hook which wobbles Silva

The slip counter is a tool he uses frequently in this fight and one I expect him to use against Yadong. Yadong throws a lot of overhands at blazing speed, but Phillips has shown to be an excellent counterpuncher. While also being excellent as a defensive striker, we’ve seen so far his combo punching ability. Especially when it comes to punches, Phillips rarely throws one at a time.

An extremely competent striker at two ranges combined with a deadly ground game round out an incredible skillset belonging to a fighter so young in his career. We have one more fight to examine his technique, this time we’re going to Fight Island. Get ready to enter the matrix one more time.

Phillips’ opponent is hard-hitting Brit Cameron Else. a short-notice replacement. While Else is dangerous, he plays perfectly into Phillips’ skillset. Immediately, Phillips is feinting way more than he did against Silva. Utilizing feints is key to success in MMA and the addition of constant feinting leads this performance to be even more impressive than the one before it. Phillips’ slip counters and general dodges make Else unable to clip him.

Phillips’ diverse array of strikes leaves Else confused as to what he should defend and because of this Phillips can take him down with ease. Phillips realizes he is dealing with a grappler who is worse than his previous opponent, which allows him to simply show off. Every time Else tries to roll out and reverse position, Phillips is there to thwart it. Quickly, he has Else all figured out which leads to a glorious finishing sequence.

Phillips feints a jab and loads up a high kick
The high kick splits the block, rocking Else
Phillips turns Else’s back away from the fence and takes advantage of his rocked state and falls forward which forces the weak knees of Else to concede the takedown
Tying up Else’s legs, Phillips works to grab his wrist and pull him onto his front to flatten him out. With Else’s legs tied up and off the ground, Else can offer no resistance to getting flattened out
With Else flattened out, it is all over

Kyler Phillips to me is one of the coolest fighters in MMA right now, a talent that is quite rare. Unorthodox yet incredibly effective in conventional MMA exchanges. From the elite cage movement to the wild kicks to the constantly moving ground game, Phillips is a danger wherever the fight may go.

It’s a shame he is still as unknown as he is, but I hope I’ve made a fan out of you with this article. In terms to his fight against Yadong, I see a path to victory through his range striking and ground game. Regardless of the outcome, Phillips is a force in this division to watch.

By Zach Harkness

Zach Harkness is the head fight analyst at MMA Island.

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