Three Potential Fights For The UFC’s Phil Davis

A hypothetical hit list for the unbeaten light heavyweight

Yesterday, we ran our interview with Team Edge fighter Phil Davis where the unbeaten up-and-comer explained the process of determining his next opponent in the cage.

“I’m Dana White’s hitman. If your name is on the list, you’re next,” said the usually affable 26-year-old without a hint of sarcasm.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard him say such a thing, either. Davis expressed a similar sentiment following his win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Seattle. It went something along the lines of “If they say get him, I got him.”

While Davis patiently continues to rehab from the knee injury that caused him to withdraw from a marquee match-up with Rashad Evans at UFC 133, now seems like as good a time as every to take a stab at who could be on White’s theoretically hit list.

Here’s three potential opponents for “Mr. Wonderful” once he returns.

Vladimir Matyushenko

Like Davis, the Belarusian was forced to withdraw from UFC 133 due to an injury; he was slated to face Davis’ teammate Alexander Gustafsson. Riding a two-fight winning streak and sporting a 4-1 record since returning to the UFC in September 2009, the veteran is making a move up the rankings.

Matyushenko is a deceiving option. He’s not as well known as some of the other light heavyweights out there, and people get caught up in his age (he’s 40) and the fact that he got destroyed by Jon Jones. But Jones has ran through everyone to date, and ask Jason Brilz or Alexandre Ferreira how much Matyushenko’s age was a factor in him stopping each of them in the opening round.

“The Janitor” brings a wrestling base into the Octagon just like Davis, and showed in his most recent outing that he packs power in his hands. It certainly wouldn’t be the most glamorous option, but with the tremendous depth in the division, there isn’t any real need to push Davis too hard, too soon. Matyushenko would be another solid test.

Lyoto Machida

The former light heavyweight is one of the few top 205 pound fighters who doesn’t have a fight scheduled or isn’t just coming off a fight. His last trip into the cage came at UFC 129 in Toronto; he was bumped from the opportunity to replace Davis opposite Evans after requesting “Anderson Silva money.”

Though he’s still one of the top competitors in the light heavyweight division, Machida is just 2-2 over his last four fights and likely at least one more good win away from challenging for the title. A meeting with Davis fits the bill perfectly, and also gives the unbeaten wrestler the opportunity to potentially notch a high profile win over a former champion; the kind of victory needed to put him into the upper echelon of the division and into serious contention.

Machida poses stylistic problems for Davis, as he does with everyone. He has superior striking and excellent footwork, two things that would keep Davis from being able to simply shoot in for takedowns freely. He also has solid takedown defense and a solid ground game of his own, though he isn’t forced to use it very often.

Pairing these two together could serve as a title eliminator bout or serve to elevate the winner into a #1 contender bout the next time out.

Loser of Jon Jones / Quinton Jackson

Somewhat of a wild card entry in the race, pairing Davis with the fighter who doesn’t come away from UFC 135 with the light heavyweight title is an interesting opportunity. Should Davis emerge victorious, it instantly legitimizes him as an elite contender.

This would be the highest profile option available; a bout that could serves as the main event of a television broadcast or easily be slotted into position as the co-main event of a pay-per-view card. Though he is steadily climbing the ranks and recognized as a future contender, a match-up with either of these two fighters would give Davis the most exposure he’s had to date.

Placing Davis in a bout of this magnitude would be a clear indication that the UFC envisions the former NCAA Division 1 National champion as a legitimate contender, one they are ready to injected into the title race in 2012. The downside, however, is that it could be the “too much, too soon” scenario mentioned earlier; a pairing that is just outside of Davis’ capabilities at this time that ends up doing more harm than good.

That being said, you can’t help but be intrigued by the potential of both match-ups.

Facing Jones would be a pairing of two of the top young talents in the light heavyweight ranks; two fighters with tremendous wrestling backgrounds who are viewed as the potential leaders of this division in the future. Jackson would represent an altogether different challenge; a proven veteran with knockout power in both hands and very good defensive wrestling.

* * * * * * * *

Davis is one of four fighters vying to become the new face of Team Edge.

Cast your vote for “Mr. Wonderful” and you will be entered for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas and VIP tickets to a future UFC event.

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