After finishing his first four opponents on the local mixed martial arts (MMA) scene, Phil Davis got the call up to the big show, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), to test his skills against the cream of the crop.
Sure, Davis had his NCAA Division-1 wrestling credentials in his back pocket, which includes being a four-time All American and winning one national title at Penn State University (PSU), however, "Mr. Wonderful" wanted to prove he was worthy based on his fighting skills.
He did just that by racking up five straight wins inside the Octagon, including impressive victories over top contenders Alexander Gustafsson, Brian Stann and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Labeled by many as the ‘next big thing' and a legit threat to the reign of current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Jon Jones, Davis headed into his showdown against Rashad Evans at UFC on Fox 2 earlier this year with a title shot on the line along with a perfect 9-0 record.
"Suga," however, proved to be too much to for the young fighter, outworking and even outwrestling the former Nittany Lion en route to a unanimous decision victory, earning his own shot at the gold against "Bones."
Suffering the first set back in his fighting career, Davis knew it was back to the drawing board and back to the gym. As time heals all wounds, so too, does time, allow one to learn and get that much better.
And that is exactly what Phil has done, as he told UFC.com.
"For me, it's literally just more time in the gym. I got beat by [Rashad Evans] on experience and he fought the smarter fight. The more time I spend training in this sport, the more dangerous I'm going to get. That's really just it. From when I fought [Evans] to now, I've gotten so much better. And by the time January comes back around, which is when I fought him, I will be much better then. The most dangerous part of someone fighting me is allowing me to learn more about this whole MMA game."
Having competed the majority of his career inside the Octagon, "Mr. Wonderful" sees it as an advantage over the rest of the competition and despite wanting to channel his inner Anderson Silva and do something ‘extravagant,' he is satisfied with just getting the all important win, for now.
"In some ways, I'm ahead of the curve and in some ways I'm behind. Most of my fighting career has been inside the Octagon. Not too many people can say that. Which means, of all the people I've fought, most of them have been top competition. If you go through the guys I've fought, they've all been gamers. I really didn't have the chance to develop like most other fighters have, like getting progressively tougher as they go along. By the time I had my tenth fight, I was going against the former world champion. You have to sink or swim. Sometimes, I get a little upset at myself because I wish I was a little better at this or that or just had a performance that I didn't like. Sometimes, I wish I could do something extravagant in there like Anderson Silva. But I have to say to myself, 'Listen, you've been doing this for two years and you're fighting the best guys in the world. Maybe you should just be cool with winning.' As I've gotten more confident and been able to settle into my own groove of my fighting style, I've been more potent in the gym and my overall game has gotten a lot better. I need to stop being so anxious about getting the highlight reel finish and just take my time and learn my way."
After his loss to Evans, Davis was paired up opposite undefeated (8-0) UFC newcomer, Wagner Prado, at UFC on Fox 4 back on Aug., 4, 2012. The bout didn't last too long, as it came to a disappointing end in the early minutes of the first round due to an unintentional eye poke from Davis to Prado, resulting in a "No Contest."
With a rematch looming this weekend (Oct. 13, 2012) at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Davis says he has no qualms of fighting in Prado's home country.
"Fair is fair. The first time, we fought was in LA, which isn't necessarily my hometown, but it's closer than where Wagner is from. I get it. This time, we're fighting in Rio. It's not where Wagner's from, but it's sort of like his hometown. That's as fair as fair can be. You can't ask for more of a fair shake than that. I'm glad to fight in front of the Brazilian fans. They're great fans, they're fanatics about the sport, they like to see good fights, they're educated fight fans, and I would like to give them everything they paid their money for -- and then some."
How about it Maniacs, can Davis rebound from his loss to Rashad and begin his climb back to the top of the 205-pound landscape? Or will Prado impress in his (re) debut?