Back in the summer of 2017, Kyler Phillips was an undefeated prospect fresh off a Contender Series win, entering the 27th season of The Ultimate Fighter having never lost as a pro or amateur. However, a run in with the eventual winner, Brad Katona, left Phillips needing to find another path to the Octagon.

After splitting his next two fights on the regional circuit, he had a bout set up with former title challenger Ray Borg set up in March of 2019. That never came to fruition as Phillips had to pull out (which coincidentally led to the debut win of MMA Lab teammate Casey Kenney). Now, two-and-a-half years removed from his win on the Contender Series, Phillips is set to make his Octagon debut against Gabriel Silva in Norfolk.

“I feel like Contender (Series), Ultimate fighter was almost like an internship/college for me,” Phillips told “I got to see the big show and learn, and then go back home and take the time to learn to have some patience, learn different characteristics that I wasn’t mature enough (to have at the time). Honestly, I think I wasn’t ready.”

Now though, Phillips is a cool customer during fight week, joking with his family, who accompanied him to Virginia, and coaxing his little brother to jump into his interview. He seems like the type of guy who doesn’t let the moment overwhelm him, but it also helps to have trained at The MMA Lab in Phoenix, Arizona, where he arrived around the same time as current bantamweight prospects Mario Bautista and Sean O’Malley.

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“We still feel like kids,” Phillips said of his teammates. ”We’re having fun just going out there. We’re going to run the game.”

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In terms of his goals in his debut, Phillips isn’t making any grand proclamations, rather aiming to just “be honest.” What that means is living up to his “Matrix” moniker and blending his striking and ground attack together well.

“When somebody is fighting me, it’s not one style,” he said. “It’s multiple styles, and it’s going to be hard to figure out this type of game, and if they are trying to figure it out, they’re already going to be two steps behind.”

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Ultimately, though, he knows the best statement he can make ends with getting his hand raised. His opponent, Gabriel Silva, most recently dropped a unanimous decision to Borg in San Antonio last summer.

Whether that adds urgency or not, Phillips isn’t trying to get swept up in reading into what implications a win or loss might mean for him. Rather, he’s insistent on living in the moment while also balancing the emotions that come with his first walk to the Octagon.

“It’s really cool to finally get to do this, but it’s been a long time coming,” Phillips said. “But (you) best know it’s beginning. We’re just going to get started and have fun. We’re going to get to business. We’re going to cut the lines, but we’re also going to just have some fun and do the whole thing all the way through.”

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