Toughest nurse on the planetBy Odette Montelibano
TORONTO, Canada—Filipino-American mixed martial artist Phillipe Ignacio Nover brings pride to Filipinos as the reigning lightweight champion in Lou Neglia’s Ring of Combat.
However, when he is not fighting in the cage, Nover is busy saving lives at the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York where he is a registered nurse at the hospital’s Cardiac Cath Lab.
Nover, 29, has been balancing both careers in the last eight years. He started fighting professionally in 2003 and has been working as a nurse since he passed the nursing board exams in 2005.
He recently won the mixed martial arts (MMA) lightweight belt over contender Mike Santiago by unanimous decision. Nover is set to defend his championship belt from Tennessee fighter Adam “Prime Time” Townsend on Sept. 20, at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In 2008, Nover was tapped to be part of the UFC-produced reality TV show “The Ultimate Fighter” which pitted two teams against each other. In episode 8 of the series he earned the moniker the “toughest nurse on the planet.”
But Nover suffered a setback in his fighting career following his release from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2010 and neck surgery to correct an aggravated herniated disk. But he is fighting his way back. The UFC is the one of the largest mixed martial arts promotion companies worldwide.
Fighting has always been a passion for Nover. He started training at age 10 in traditional martial arts under Sifu Ralph Mitchell at the Universal Defense Systems. He learned Filipino arnis, muay thai, kickboxing, kung fu, jeet kun do and savat. He stayed in the same fighting school until he was 25-years-old. Training with other schools started after he got into UFC.
He first joined traditional tournaments like point sparring competitions, jiu jitsu tournaments and kickboxing fights until he realized that the ultimate test would be to try out mixed martial arts, which is full contact combat sports using the combination of fighting disciplines. “I gave it a try and I was hooked ever since.
“When I had my first professional fight in 2003 the sport was so new and no one had even heard of the UFC or MMA,” he said.
Around the same time that he was training for MMA, he was also studying hard for an associate nursing degree at the Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.
Nover shared that he was able to balance training and studying very well and that his first fight took place just as he was entering college.
After attaining his associate degree and passing the licensure exam in 2005, he pursued his bachelor’s degree at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, New York and completed his studies in 2008.
It surprises many to find out that it was his American father, Lawrence, a retired nurse, who hugely influenced him to pursue the nursing profession. “My dad worked very hard and provided for us,” he said, adding that his dad also influenced his older brother to become a nurse.
His mother, Josie, is from Quezon City, Philippines. She worked at the medical records section of the hospital where she met his father through common Filipino friends. She later moved on to a real estate job, he said.
While Nover loves martial arts, he said he also knows that a professional sports career isn’t as stable as getting a degree, a pension and health insurance. UFC fighters are generally paid per fight and the amounts depend on how well-known they are. They also get bonuses for winning and for special awards.
“On top of these, nursing is an honorable job and helps people,” he added.
The two professions are not as incompatible as it first appears. Nover said his knowledge of health and the human body has helped him train and better his fighting skills.
Asked about his most challenging experience as a nurse, Nover disclosed that getting his degree and getting through school was “a battle in itself.”
“That school was so difficult,” he said, adding that he studied hard and made it his goal to pass his classes and graduate.
“After graduating I became an ER (emergency room) nurse for three years. I have witnessed many incidents that have changed my life and made me appreciate life. I learned so much from working at the ER,” he recalled.
He took a break from nursing after three years to focus on his fighting career but returned to hospital work two years later and now works in the cardiac cath lab.
“I love my nursing job, too. I’ve been here for three years now (Lutheran Medical Center) and many times I am a key player in saving people’s lives,” Nover said proudly.
Growing up Fil-Am
Though Nover was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he hasn’t been alienated from Filipino culture. He loves Filipino food, and speaks Taglish (Tagalog-English). He said he has only dated Filipino women because, he quips, “among other things, Filipinos cook very well.”
“My mom would send me to the Philippines for a month or two during my summer holidays when I was younger,” Nover said. This gave him him the opportunity to learn and embrace the culture. He still comes over regularly for holidays. He has visited Palawan, Boracay and Cebu and would like to visit the Chocolate Hills in Bohol on his next holiday.
He knows he’s back in the Philippines when he smells pan de sal, adding that his favorite Filipino dish in nilagang baka (beef stew). One Philippine delicacy that Nover said he has tried is roasted salagubang (beetle) which an aunt cooked for him during one of his holidays. “It’s crunchy,” he recalled.
He also shared that his mother’s relatives told him he got his competitive fighting streak from his late grandfather who fought Filipino arnis “underground.”
Asked about his role models in UFC, he said one of them is definitely retired MMA and Brazilian jiu jitsu black belter Matt Serra who is a former coach and a successful businessman who runs a few schools. “He has made a huge impact in MMA… if I could do something close to what he has done it will be a huge accomplishment for me,” Nover stated.
He also said he and Filipino-American UFC fighter Mark Muñoz, known in the cage as the “Filipino wrecking machine,” are good friends and hang out whenever Muñoz is in New York. “He is also a huge inspiration as well, and I’m so proud of him for beating Tim Boetsch in his latest match.”
Retirement comes early for MMA fighters. “Maybe in 2-3 years, it also depends on how much I will have accomplished by then,” he said.
Being awarded a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu in 2008 is one of accomplishment he is proud of, along with his current lightweight champion title. It’s also a feat to have overcome the challenges that he faced in recent years, including health issues. His immediate goal is to get back to UFC.
He keeps in touch with his fans through Twitter (https://twitter.com/PhillipeNover) and his Facebook fan page.
In the near future, he said he is looking forward to owning and managing his own MMA school. Staying healthy is of course a number one priority for nurse Nover.