Filipino-American fighter Phillipe Nover was once regarded as one of the most promising athletes in mixed martial arts (MMA) during his time. Now, he is looking out for the safety of coronavirus patients as a cardiac nurse at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
Like any other healthcare worker in the United States during this global health crisis, Nover has his hands full, doing his best effort to attend to the needs of ailing individuals who had contracted the virus while helping to contain it from spreading. COVID-19 has hit the United States with explosive force in recent weeks, following a path seen earlier in parts of Asia and Europe. More than 160,000 people have tested positive, edging out Italy, which has reported the most casualties, and China, where the virus was first detected in Wuhan last December.
“I first read about the coronavirus in December of last year. I had a feeling it would spread in the United States. At the time, I didn’t think it would be this bad,” says Nover, who was born to a Filipino mother from Quezon City and an American father of Polish descent.
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Before medical scrubs, the Fil-Am was usually in sweat-drenched training clothes and four-ounce gloves. Known as “The Filipino Assassin,” Nover joined Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality television series produced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Nover competed as a welterweight before The Ulitmate Fighter. But, since the show only had an opening for competitors from lightweight and light heavyweight divisions, he was compelled to move one weight class lower. UFC president Dana White poked fun at him and called him the “Fainting Phillipe” when he passed out trying to make the 155-pound limit.
That laughable tag was soon forgotten when Nover clawed his way to the grand finale. White even regarded him as the next Anderson Silva, whom many considered as one of the greatest to ever grace the Octagon.
Unfortunately, he fell short in his bid to win the tournament and earn a six-figure deal with the company, bowing to Efrain Escudero by way of unanimous decision. Though he was eventually signed by the UFC, Nover failed to live up to expectations, losing his next two assignments that led to his release from the organization.
Nover found success in the New Jersey-based Ring Of Combat, where he reigned as the lightweight champion. The UFC took notice of his resurgence and offered him a new contract, including a spot at its first live event on Philippine shores in May 2015. He was paired with South Korea’s Yui Chul Nam, whom he edged out in a featherweight thriller via split decision.
Though he was off to a good start in his second UFC run, Nover then suffered three consecutive defeats. His string of setbacks forced him to call it a day in February 2017, leaving the sport with a professional record of 11-8-1.
Nover admitted that he easily came to terms with his decision to walk away from MMA and pin his focus on being a nurse. “As I got older, I realized what the risk-reward ratio was looking like. At that time, it was not looking good for a 33-year-old still competing with young, hungry studs. I had way better chances in a professional career in healthcare,” he shares.
A new chapter
Nover had been balancing both careers—fighting and healthcare work—for over a decade. He began competing professionally in 2003 and has been working as a nurse since he passed the board exams in 2005.
While working on three 12-hour shifts in a week as a nurse, he also honed his skills as a member of Team Renzo Gracie, a New York-based jiu jitsu and MMA camp. But Nover believes that the medical field is his true calling, crediting his father for introducing him to the profession.
“My father was a nurse and told me to give it a try in college. I did like that he asked. I enjoyed learning about the human body. I enjoyed helping people. I made a great decision to try nursing,” the SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University explains.
While others struggled to grasp the reality of shying away from the fame and fortune that MMA brings, Nover stressed that he is fortunate enough to be able to explore opportunities outside prizefighting.
“Life has been great. I am always doing something. Since I retired from MMA, I went back for my master's degree and became a family nurse practitioner. I am also very involved in my own personal health. I still train and lift all the time,” he says.
Although there are times that he misses the competitive atmosphere, Nover insisted that he has no plans of giving in to the temptation to come out of retirement. Firm with his decision, he channels his attention to improving as a black-belt practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“I do miss competing. But I do not miss cutting weight, dieting, or getting punched and kicked in training. I have been more active in No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu recently, and I plan on competing in that again possibly this year,” he reveals.
On the frontline
Hospitals across the United States have sounded the alarm for weeks that a lack of access to testing and personal protective equipment has left their workforce at a high risk of getting exposed as they suppress the harrowing outbreak.
As the pandemic is beginning to take a toll on medical professionals, many healthcare personnel like Nover are still showing up day after day to face overflowing emergency rooms, earning them praise as heroes. “I honestly don't mind being on the frontline as long as I have the proper gown, mask, and eye shield. I signed up for this since the day I became a nurse. My job is to treat and help people. There is no other choice,” he points out.
Aside from being physically healthy, Nover imparted that he must likewise be emotionally and psychologically prepared, especially handling mortalities that are now a regular occurrence in most American medical facilities.
“Seeing a patient dying while on a vent is tough. It is something that sticks with you,” he laments, recalling the incident. Over 1,200 people have died of COVID-19 in the state of New York as of this writing. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has warned that hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise until they reach an expected peak in two to three weeks.
As cases are rapidly escalating, it is frustrating for Nover to see that only a few are stringently observing precautionary measures and safety protocols. “I still see people not quarantining. It is frustrating, but I live in New York. It's expected that not everyone will listen,” he says.
In such a time as this, Nover believes that he made right choice to leave MMA in favor of being a full-time nurse. It is a decision that he will always take pride in.
“I am absolutely happy with my decision. My destined path is definitely toward helping people. I love what I do. I do things in my life not to be remembered," he says. "I do things in my life for the demand of current times. I am just glad I have passion in both of my careers."