As mixed martial arts (MMA) fans and pundits sought a legitimate threat to Jon Jones following his championship victory over Mauricio Rua, a lot of attention was directed toward a similar young phenom competing last night (Sat., March 26, 2011) in Seattle.
The questions were asked: Does he have physical tools on par with the new champ? Is he learning the sport with such rapidity? Does he possess the wrestling prowess most are assuming is the key to dethroning Jones?
Today, it's uncertain whether Phil Davis struggled to take down Antonio Rogerio Nogueira because of his limitations in his MMA wrestling or Nogueira's improvement in his own takedown defense, but one thing was made clear last night at UFC Fight Night 24:
Phil Davis is not a top tier 205-pound fighter in the UFC ... yet.
That's not to say he can't or won't be, and I'm certainly not aiming to demean a win over Nogueira. But examine Davis in regard to the high-watermark of the division, champion Jon Jones. The comparison is laughable and a match up between the two anytime soon wouldn't be pretty.
Both men have been in the sport less than three years, with Davis arriving on the back of a NCAA wrestling championship. "Mr. Wonderful" is incredibly athletic, possessing a deep gas tank and having quickly taken to jiu-jitsu under Lloyd Irvin. Jones, despite lacking the wrestling pedigree of Davis, has proven to be one of the most effective grapplers in MMA and is also one of the sport's most dynamic strikers.
They've both stormed into the sport, but the similarities end there.
The ability to dictate where the fight occurs is one of the must crucial abilities in the cage, and Davis found himself struggling to do so last night. His wrestling background suggested he would have overwhelmed Nogueira -- a fighter who is capable of stuffing lazy shots but has never been accused of elite takedown defense -- yet for roughly half the fight he found himself shrugged off with ease.
Nogueira was more than content to engage with Davis on the feet, where his slick combos and southpaw stance kept the youngster at bay, and where he was able to land flush shots multiple times. Davis was effective at keeping range with some sharp kicks, but it was clear that Nogueira was winning most of the exchanges.
Jones, on the other hand, has proven he can get his opponent where he wants him at any time and is capable of ending the fight once it gets there.
It does speak to Davis's persistence that he was able to secure low single-leg takedowns later in the fight. And, when he got on top of Nogueira, he was patient in the jiu-jitsu master's guard, landing heavy blows when the opportunities presented themselves.
But there was just always the lingering feeling that he was struggling, that this capable veteran was almost too much for the young prodigy. That's never been the case with Jon Jones -- he's absolutely mauled every opponent set before him.
There are parallels between Davis and Jones that will result in endless comparisons between the two until a match up ever comes to fruition. But, if the two young fighters stood even on the starting line, it's evident that "Bones" is pulling away and leaving "Mr. Wonderful" in his dust.
Davis has shown tremendous progress in his game, but Jones's rate of development is damn near inhuman. With a still-expanding physique and such rapidly developing skills, it's entirely conceivable that Jones could make a run at the heavyweight championship before Davis is even a viable light heavyweight contender.
So, let us enjoy the development of Phil Davis into a top fighter rather than anointing him the heir apparent way before his time.
Jon Jones is the champion, Phil Davis is not his challenger.