Here’s a little secret, though once you look at Phil De Fries’ unbeaten 7-0 (1 NC) record and see that he ended all of his wins by submission, it won’t be much of a secret anymore.
But here goes anyway – De Fries is not your typical British heavyweight. If you’re wondering, the typical British heavyweight is a brawler who either likes to stand and trade or finish matters on the mat with a steady diet of ground strikes. Add in being tough as nails, and you probably have the picture.
De Fries has the tough as nails part down, but as for the rest, he would rather choke you than knock you out, and if submissions are his business, well, business is booming these days. So why travel the less weathered path?
“I’ve trained BJJ for years and years before MMA,” said De Fries, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. “I saw the UFCs and saw Royce (Gracie) fighting in the gi and I thought I’ll try that because I loved the skill involved. I ended up fighting in a lot of jiu-jitsu competitions and I won a lot of them in England. In my heart, I always loved doing jiu-jitsu, and then I turned my hand to MMA and I love them both equally now.”
Turning pro in 2009, the 6-foot-4 Sunderland native has sailed through all his pro fights, with the only blemish a 2010 no contest with Dave Wilson which was ruled as such when Wilson couldn’t continue after a punch to the back of the head. It was a minor hiccup, and when De Fries defeated UFC vet Colin Robinson and fellow prospect Stav Economou in 2011, it was the last push he needed to get the call from the UFC.
Yet when he was signed to compete against fellow Brit Oli Thompson at UFC 138, his buddy (and UFC vet) Ross Pearson told him that to compete at the elite level, he needed to supplement his home training with a little traveling – to San Diego’s Alliance Training Center to be exact.
“My friend Ross Pearson is over here, and he said it’s hard work and what you need to do if you want to make it in the UFC,” said De Fries. “So I came over, and it is hard work – it was an eye opener – but I’m glad I did it. All the guys are great, I was living in the gym, and Eric (Del Fierro) is a fantastic coach and fantastic gameplan maker.”
It was in San Diego that the 25-year old De Fries got word that Thompson had injured himself in training and was withdrawing from the bout. In stepped another Brit, the Wolfslair’s Rob Broughton, a fighter all British heavyweights have had their eye on.
“He’s been the number one UK heavyweight for years, and he’s always been the guy to watch,” said De Fries. “He’s tough, he comes forward, and he doesn’t give up. But I think it’s a good fight for us.”
Changing opponents on short notice is never easy; doing it as you prepare for your first UFC bout has to be even more nerve-racking, but De Fries seems to be taking it all in stride.
“It changed the gameplan a little, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “People like Neil Wain got matched up with Shane Carwin, didn’t he? It (De Fries vs. Broughton) is a domestic match that was gonna happen sooner or later anyway, and it’s probably a harder fight than Thompson, but it’s not a really, really hard fight. I’m very confident I’m gonna win it.”
If he does, and does it with one of his trademark submissions, he may join unbeaten lightweight groundfighting guru Paul Sass in paving the way for other jiu-jitsu based fighters from the UK, which De Fries admits is “a big boxing nation.” But whether it’s knockouts or tap outs, everybody loves a perfect record and they love a finisher even more. De Fries has both ends covered.
“I really, really don’t like losing,” he said. “I always like to win and I don’t like to give an inch. I finished all my fights before the third round, so I’m very confident, I’m a finisher, and I’m just gonna go and do my thing against Broughton. Hopefully, the fans will see some excitement and a good submission, hopefully Submission of the Night.”
Phil De Fries - A New Kind of British Heavyweight
By Thomas Gerbasi November 04, 2011