Lance Phillips ready for battle at Iron Tiger 77

Some of Lance Phillips’ favorite memories of his youth are centered around the sun-splashed autumn afternoons when the hulking defensive lineman and his teammates on the Wittenberg University football team would rush onto the field and into battle.

The roar of the crowd, the bond with his teammates, the primal emotions released in the heat of competition – he missed it all when he had to hang up his red and white Tigers jersey a decade ago.

MMA, however, has filled that void, and tackles and hits have since been replaced by punches and kicks.

Phillips says he is eager to once again rekindle those competitive fires when he makes his pro debut in a light heavyweight fight against Gabriel Mota at Iron Tiger 77 on Nov. 22

“Obviously,” he said, “the camaraderie with football and being with the guys side by side and everybody going into battle together was something that I did miss. MMA was able to fill that void with all the training we did. You can know somebody they have never met before in five minutes if you fight him. And that was one of the things that really attracted me to this because you know people of all creeds, colors and ethnicities can come together. We all bleed the same and combat is the universal language that everyone speaks. So is one of those things that has allowed me to replace the camaraderie and get around more good people.”

Truth be told, Phillips affixed his gaze on MMA even before his football career had ended. He told his dad he would be a pro fighter one day. He gave himself a year off to rest, then began training, running and slimming down from his peak weight of 260.

Phillips, who went 8-1 in an amateur career that dates back to 2012, said there was no eureka moment when he knew he was ready to go pro.

“A lot of that comes to bear in how your coaches look at you and the confidence you feel in your skills and how you feel when you’re standing across from somebody,” said Phillips, who trains at Ronin Training Center in Columbus, Ohio. “Sometimes that moment of walking into the cage for some can be nerve racking, but as you get more calm with it you know usually the confidence in yourself and the way that you approach things is indicative of how you should be competing.”

Phillips isn’t the same man, however, who fought most of those bouts. He looks at the world differently since June was born 10 months ago.

“My daughter has made me more serious,” Phillips said. “As soon as I saw my daughter born, I knew I had to bite down on my job, with fighting, with everything. … You could say is that when my little June Bug was born, my focus became laser-like.”

Phillips has been juggling a lot. There’s training, there’s playing on the floor with June, there’s his career as a freight broker – not necessarily in that order. Through it all, his wife, Tara, has been his biggest fan.

“She has me through all this,” he said. “She’s glued my face back together more than once and she deals with it when I have an outburst when I’m angry from cutting weight, when I’m irritable during training. I got to give her a huge shout out.”

The Phillipses have just bought their first house. Lance is finally getting a mancave. He wants to cover the walls with mementos from his career at Wittenberg, as well as his high school days when he played football and wrestled. He can also hang his English degree in there.

He is hoping to fill the home with memories of how Dad worked hard to become a pro MMA fighter.

“I want (June) to know that hard work is valuable,” he said. “The fact she lives in a nice place right now – it wasn’t always (that way) for me. I come from southern Ohio about half hour south of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. I come from coal country. I want my daughter know her roots are and I want her to know that her daddy fought his ass off to make things better.

“Even if I didn’t fight, my daughter would be taken care of. I have a degree, I have a job and I have a focus that makes it so I can pay my bills every month. But the biggest thing to me about it is that I want her to know that her daddy did it because he loved it and because he wanted to prove something and he wanted to let everybody know that he was just a little bit different. And I hope I pass that on to her.”

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