This Saturday night (April 26, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Phil Davis and Anthony Johnson will go to war in the pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event of UFC 172, airing live at 10 p.m. ET from Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.
Davis was last seen defeating former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida via highly controversial unanimous decision at UFC 163.
Looking to cement a coveted title shot, the No. 4-ranked "Mr. Wonderful" still only has one loss on his mixed martial arts (MMA) record, but that might not be enough to earn him the top contender spot.
Davis seems to know this, so he's been using his mouth just as much as his fighting skills in the weeks leading up to the UFC 172. Problem is, it's been mainly focused on UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, a fighter Davis says he's going to "break apart like a sugar cookie."
Not a single iota of that talk has been directed at the No. 14-ranked Johnson, who returns to the Octagon after two years off following his release for missing weight prior to his UFC 142 loss to Vitor Belfort.
"Rumble" has seemingly turned around his career, notching six straight victories in smaller promotions like Titan FC and World Series of Fighting (WSOF). Four of those have been knockouts, a number that could quickly become five if "Mr. Wonderful" chooses to overlook him.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Davis vs. Johnson:
Record: 12-1(1) overall, 8-1(1) UFC
Key Wins: Lyoto Machida (UFC 163), Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 112), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC Fight Night 24), Tim Boetsch (UFC 123), Brian Stann (UFC 109)
Key Losses: Rashad Evans (UFC on FOX 2)
Keys to Victory: 2008 NCAA Division I national champion wrestler Davis brings some of the best power takedowns in MMA today. His ability to drag down his opponents is probably what sealed up his win over Machida, although many would still argue that wasn't enough.
Regardless, Davis won, and now he has a golden opportunity against Johnson. To take full advantage, he needs to stay just out of Johnson's striking range long enough to set up his takedown attempts with strikes.
Training out of San Diego's Alliance MMA, "Mr. Wonderful's" striking is progressing at a solid pace. However, it's not quite at the level of knockout artist "Rumble," so Davis will be best served to take this fight to the ground and unleash a high torrent of ground and pound.
Johnson has also tapped out three times in four total losses, a promising dynamic for Davis, who has already had a submission hold named after him. "Rumble" will be in immediate danger of losing this fight if and when it hits the mat.
Despite Johnson's wrestling background, the tables will turn heavily in Davis' favor if he can make this bout ugly.
He just has to stay focused on "Rumble" rather than looking ahead to Jones.
Record: 16-4 overall, 7-4 UFC
Key Wins: Andrei Arlovski (WSOF 2), Dan Hardy (UFC Fight Night 24), Mike Kyle (WSOF 8), David Branch (Titan FC 22),
Key Losses: Vitor Belfort (UFC 142), Josh Koscheck (UFC 109)
Keys to Victory: Johnson's eleven knockouts are what highlight reels are made for. "Rumble" mixes up his strikes effectively with a lethal arsenal of hooks and head kicks.
He's looking to become the first man to ever knock out "Mr. Wonderful," but he'll have to stay upright long enough to do it. Johnson's background as an NJCAA national champion wrestler will undoubtedly pay dividends against Davis, who will be looking for a decent amount of takedowns.
If he can use his wrestling to keep this fight standing, Johnson should hold a decided advantage in the striking department.
Training with the Blackzilians at South Florida's Jaco Hybrid Training Center has definitely given Johnson a new lease on fighting and a wealth of crucial knowledge.
Of course, all that can end with one more failed attempt to make weight, a transgression that will see Johnson cut and banned from the UFC for life.
But if his recent results tell us anything, it's that "Rumble" is focused after finally fighting where he should. He appears more confident than ever in his power, a skillset that can give even the best light heavyweights big problems.
Avoiding any prolonged ground exchanges will also be paramount to a win, as Johnson has never once submitted an opponent. "Rumble's" submission defense needs to be at an absolute all-time high.
If it is, he has a solid chance to pull off the upset.
Bottom Line from Baltimore: The bottom line for this fight is that the winner will find himself in prime position to contend for the title in a suddenly crowded division.
Davis has been close to perfect in terms of wins and losses, but his recent victories aren't gaining him many new fans. Perhaps that's why he's resorted to calling out Jones, but again, "Rumble" is the main thing he should be thinking about.
A fighter with that kind of momentum can never be overlooked, regardless of how much higher ranked Davis is.
Johnson has looked flawless since the UFC sent him packing, albeit against lesser competition. Repeatedly attempting to make welterweight in the past, Johnson has put his insane weight cuts behind him and settled in at a more natural class.
This fight is going to show us whether or not Johnson is once again ready to take on the best in the world. Davis is a mountain of a challenge, and Johnson is hungrier than we've seen him in the past.
Coming right back into a huge bout puts most of the pressure on "Mr. Wonderful," because he's set himself up to look bad if he loses.
All those dynamics make for a potentially exciting co-main event in Baltimore. That is, unless Davis can easily smother "Rumble" on the mat.
This one could go either way, so enjoy the fight.
Phil Davis has certainly been hyping up his own stock, but he may have lost track of the task at hand. Will he silence his doubters by sending "Rumble" packing at UFC 172?