By Morgan Taylor, Reporter
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Aaron Phillips is the first Muscogee citizen and Alaskan Native to be featured on the reality TV show, the Ultimate Fighter.
The Ultimate Fighter is a reality TV series that focuses on the training of mixed martial art (MMA) competitors produced by Fox Sports 1 and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
According to Phillips manager, Joey Torres, “the pandemic and living in remote Alaska brought its challenges for the MMA fighter and his family.”
According to his manager, these challenges make Phillips somewhat of an underdog as he enters the competition.
After signing with Dodge Sports in Feb. 2020, the pandemic hit. Phillips was only able to make one fight early this year before applying for the show.
“He ended up fighting with a year lay off,” Torres said. “We were able to get him out of Alaska to fight for the first time in his career, although it didn’t go his way, what it did prove is that even though he is a bit behind, he’s still at the level where all these guys are.”
Phillips and his manager were not deterred.
“We had heard mumbling of the show coming back,” Torres said. “It has been three or four years since the last season.”
“A couple months ago they had announced the weight classes that were going to be on the show. 135 lightweight and 185 middleweight, which is Aaron’s weight class.”
The opportunity presented itself and Torres sat down with Phillips to see if he would be interested or even ready for it.
“He was extremely interested and he thought it would be a way to kick start his dreams,” Torres said. “Not only is this going to be beneficial for his mixed martial arts career but statistics show that the majority of the cast does get signed to the UFC.”
“He is going to be forever branded as an Ultimate Fighter which is huge in the sport.”
Torres said Phillips did not expect this to ever happen for him.
“He’s never been able to train full time, and he’s always had to juggle training with a job,” Torres said.
It’s a problem most fighters have to overcome.
”What’s unique for Aaron is where he’s from,” Torres said. “He has never had access to high level gyms or training.”
After the application was sent, Phillips had to go through the lengthy processes of elimination including interviews, drug testing, background testing, health testing.
“Even before he got the ‘yes’ he was still cutting weight and making sure he was ready,” Torres said. “Whereas most fighters might sit and wait.”
When Phillips got his “yes” moment he was with Torres in CO.
“I think the Alaskan story and Creek Native story is what did it,” Torres said. “There have been Alaskan born fighters before but not Native Alaskan.”
According to Torres, Phillips’ reaction to the news was like a kid in a candy store. “He could not stop smiling, it was cheek to cheek. He could not wait to call his people back home.”
Before going on the show, Phillips flew to Denver. Phillips and his manager worked on preparation training.
The night before he left, Phillips was staying with Torres who asked, “Man, did you expect this to be your story? Like you’re going to be on the Ultimate Fighter Reboot, a legendary show.”
“Never in a million years would I expect this to be my story, I never thought this would amount to anything, especially a fight career outside of Alaska,” Phillips said.
Since mid-March, Phillips has been distanced from reality and has had no contact from the outside world as he lives in a house located in Las Vegas with 15 other people who are his competition.
“He has never had the opportunity to train like many of his competitors,” Torres said. “He would have to travel into Anchorage (549 miles away) just to get into a gym.”
“This show will give him the opportunity he’s never had and allow him to exclusively train and open up many doors for him.”
Phillips’ girlfriend, Amelia Martinez believes Phillips had to work extra hard even while balancing a full time job at the local airport.
“He would train in a shop, in his moms backyard in negative 20-degree weather,” Martinez claims. “There were times he would push my car through snow as a form of exercise.”
“He is the most dedicated person I know.”
Eufaula native Ben Phillips, father of Aaron, claims Aaron’s interest in MMA started in 2018 after his older brother picked up boxing to stay in shape.
“Well he saw his older brother doing something and I guess he thought he would try something too,” Ben said. “Never did I think he would be fighting but watching him chase his dream is really something to me.”
In High School, Phillips gained state championship titles in wrestling.
“That’s where I believe it was generated from,” Ben said. “He was a really talented wrestler.”
Martinez said, “That’s his strength, if he gets you on the ground there’s no getting out of that.”
The family claims this time away from Phillips is difficult but they are nothing short of excited to hear from him and watch the show.
The first episode of the reboot season will air June 1 on ESPN+.
Follow Phillips on Instagram at @AaronPhillipsMMA to watch his story on social media.