“Mr. Wonderful” prepared for toughest challenge of his career
If the UFC light heavyweight roster doesn’t have enough to worry about in the wake of Jon Jones claiming the 205-pound strap from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua last weekend, unbeaten prospect Phil Davis is ready to drive the final nail into the coffin, burying the dreams of many within the division.
Having collected four victories in his first year competing in the UFC, Davis is set to make his 2011 debut opposite talented veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the main event of Fight Night 24. Heading into the biggest fight of his career this weekend in Seattle, Davis wants everyone to know that facing the former Pride standout doesn’t make him nervous.
“I just have to get in there and do what I do. Bumble bees don’t get nervous, they just make honey,” laughed the 26-year-old Harrisburg native. So far, the impressive former Big Ten standout has made a lot of honey inside the Octagon, earning four wins in 2010. It’s a pattern he wants to maintain and one he hopes to achieve by remaining diligent in his preparation and continuing to evolve as a fighter.
“My thing is I don’t want to ever be in a place where I’m content with my performance. There is always so many things you can do to be better, whether that’s your setup to a move, how to disguise moves better, just anything. Quickness, speed, endurance; I just never want to be to my full potential.”
That should make a lot of light heavyweights think twice about accepting an opportunity to fight Davis in the future. While Jones has rightfully been garnering a great deal of attention for his meteoric rise to the top, Davis is following a similar path, and bringing more impressive credentials with him on the journey.
A four-time All-American and 2008 National champion at Penn State, Davis has made a seamless transition to MMA. It took just four wins on the regional circuit for the UFC to come calling, and he’s maintained his momentum since stepping up to the big leagues.
In his UFC debut, Davis dominated former WEC light heavyweight champion Brian Stann before forcing fellow prospect (and current training partner) Alexander Gustafsson to submit at UFC 112. A quick return to the cage at UFC 117 resulted in a decision win over Rodney Wallace, and with Davis making it four-for-four when he submitted Tim Boetsch with a modified kimura christened “The Philmura” last November.
Davis was first slated to face Matt Hamill at UFC 129 in Toronto, but when the TUF 3 alum was pulled to fight Quinton Jackson instead, the shuffling of opponents started. After briefly landing opposite Jason Brilz, an injury to Tito Ortiz created the opening on the poster for Fight Night 24 against Nogueira. For some fighters, the juggling of opponents would disrupt their training camp, but not Davis.
“I’m just always in shape, always in the gym, always ready to go. I wasn’t looking forward to fighting Nogueira, but you know, its kind of one of those things where the UFC, Joe Silva and Dana White put a challenge in front of me and I just go.
“Like I said, I wasn’t looking forward to facing Nogueira but that’s the stage they set for me and that who I’m going to go with, and we’re going to put on a great show.”
While Davis is fine with the numerous comparisons to the new light heavyweight champion-“You can compare me to whoever you want, as long as they’re a winner”-he doesn’t fixate on the expectations set out for him by the fans and media because he’s got an even harder critic to please: himself.
“I don’t like to put pressure on myself. I have my expectations for my performance and I know what I expect me to do, but I’ll never try to put pressure on my performance to try and validate someone else’s feelings.
“It’s not the way to be or the way to think. I think this is going to be a great fight for me because (pause) any fight is going to be a great fight for me. I’m just looking forward getting in there, showing what I can do and being a good fighter, showing my fans what they’re used to seeing.”
Having earned four wins in the best organization in the sport in one year, just 25 months after stepping into the cage for the first time, it’d be easy for Davis to give himself high marks for his performance to date, but that isn’t the case.
“I’m still pretty raw; I don’t have my own style yet. I don’t have my own swag yet. I’m just still being shaped, you know? I’m still getting together a core base of fundamental skills that eventually will lead into my own style, and once that’s down, then I’ll have a little more to work with, but right now, I’m still raw, still pretty green.”
Though many pundits point to Davis’s wrestling pedigree at Penn State and label him a natural athlete, it’s things like scoring himself on a difficult curve and constantly working hard in the gym that could help him become an elite competitor in the next year or two.
“As Coach Lloyd Irvin always says, `Hard work will always beat talent when talent refused to work hard.’ I feel like I’m a combination of both hard work and talent, and that is ultimately the worst case scenario for someone who is trying to compete against me.
“I definitely think that somehow hard work is downplayed when you’re talking about certain athletes, but I just want to go on the record and say that it’s not that I’m so athletically talented; I work hard at this. This is my 9-5. I get up in the morning and I think about training. Go to sleep, I think about training. Wake up from my nap, I study my opponents, I go to training. This is what I do.
“And whatever chance I get, I like to thank my coaches for pushing me hard and teaching me, and just stress the things that actually matter so people hear you say that you work hard, and that you were at the gym every day working your butt off.”
So far that dedication and hard work has teamed perfectly with Davis’s natural talents to produce an undefeated record and a quick climb up the light heavyweight rankings. Saturday night, Davis takes another step up the ladder, facing a top 10 opponent and headlining an event for the first time.
Pushing his winning streak to five against a decorated veteran like Nogueira would not only bring more comparisons to Jones, but also add fuel to the discussion of the two eventually meeting to do battle for divisional supremacy.
Right now, a fight of that magnitude isn’t on Davis’s mind; he’s just focused on beating Nogueira and continuing to improve. When the day comes when Davis no longer considers himself a work in progress, the rest of the light heavyweight roster better reconsider their championship ambitions.
With the way Davis has dedicated himself to his craft, that day should come sooner rather than later.