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Back to basics: exclusive UFC 106 interview with a ‘revamped’ Marcus Davis


Marcus Davis is getting back to basics.

Once often referred to as "the most improved TUF cast member" while he was riding an 11-fight win streak, "The Irish Hand Grenade" feels confident in just how far his wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills have come since his early days on The Ultimate Fighter Season 2.

Now he’s going back to his bread and butter, the sweet science — he went 17-1-2 as a professional boxer on the New England circuit. And it’s there he’s hoping to recapture the speed and agility that helped the southpaw earn a reputation as a knockout artist.

Only he hope’s to do it inside the Octagon, not the square circle.

Never mind that half of his victories in mixed martial arts have come via submission. Davis has his sights set on clipping chins and stealing wins. And he has the very large target in 6’3" Ben Saunders set firmly in his crosshairs.

At (7-1-2), "Killa B" is one of the larger welterweights under the UFC banner. Since transitioning over from The Ultimate Fighter: Team Hughes vs. Team Serra, Saunders earned three impressive victories before succumbing to a second round TKO loss to Mike Swick at UFC 99: "The Comeback."

With both Saunders and Davis (16-5) coming off losses, expect everything thrown to be laced with bad intentions. It all goes down tomorrow night at UFC 106: "Ortiz vs. Griffin 2" from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Davis vs. Saunders bout will headline Spike TV’s live telecast of some of the preliminary bouts before the UFC 106 main card goes to pay-per-view (PPV).

This is a fight you won’t want to miss.

We recently caught up with Davis while he was running on the treadmill in preparation for the UFC 106 weigh-ins. He talked about what it means to be fighting on Spike, the revamped, new-look "Hand Grenade" we can expect to see on Saturday, and of course ... Dan Hardy.

Let’s get after it.

Adam Wagner ( You last fought Dan Hardy at UFC 99 in June. You’ve said that believe you won 12 minutes of that 15-minute fight and that you wanted an immediate rematch after the razor-thin split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28). Hardy, of course, has gone on to beat Mike Swick and is now getting a title shot after going just 4-0 in the UFC. First, do you think he deserves a title shot?

Marcus Davis: My thinking is no, but it really doesn’t matter to me, and this is why: He’s going to go into that fight, and Georges St. Pierre is going to take him down with ease. Every single time he tries, he’s going to take him down, and he’s just gonna pummel his face in while (Hardy) lies on that mat. And what does that do? That sends that frickin’ douchebag back to the gates where I’m sittin’, waitin’ for him, and I get what I want — another fight with him. And who knows, they’re not supposed to fight until spring of 2010. Maybe (Hardy) wants a warm-up fight before he jumps in there with Georges St. Pierre. He’s already beat me, and he was, as he says, the "worst Dan Hardy" he’s ever been, and I was the "best Marcus Davis" I’ve ever been. Once again, people tell me to let it go. He doesn’t let it go either, making excuses for whatever reasons he thinks that the fight was so close. I mean if you look at his face when they announce the decision, he actually looks surprised, and he shrugged his shoulders. He looked and he shrugged his shoulders. He was like, "Hey, a win’s a win." So let’s do it again, that’s what I want. I have to get through Ben Saunders first. He’s my number one priority right now. But if God does what he’s always done in my case, by putting me in the right place at the right time and giving me things, this could work out, this could be it. And this is what I needed. I needed that fight to happen that way, for it to go down that way, for me to make the changes that I’ve (made). If you talk to my coaches and my training camp and my sparring partners, they will tell you that I am the new, revamped, 2.0 Marcus Davis. I am a completely changed fighter. Absolutely, completely, and they will see it on Saturday.

Adam Wagner ( Well, for the record, I’m not one of those people who want you to drop the whole Hardy thing, because I thought it was a great first fight, and I think it’s going to be an even better second fight whenever you guys do rematch.

Marcus Davis: Right, we know each other now. We know each other intimately in that cage. We know what’s expected. The next time … like I say, fighting is like dancing. If your dancing partner doesn’t know what they’re doing, it can look like crap or whatever. But in this case, we’re more familiar, we can give a better show.

Adam Wagner ( Well let’s talk about some of the things that you’ve been focusing on in training. I assume you’ve been training at Sityodtong for this fight. I watched a video where you said you were going back to focus on some of your best assets, like speed, head movement and footwork, because, while you were becoming more well-rounded by focusing on wrestling and jiu-jitsu, you feel you may have ignored your bread and butter.

Marcus Davis: Yeah, I put them on the backburner. I kinda felt like boxing and all that stuff was riding a bike, it’s second nature to me. So I could afford to put it on the backburner. I spent so much time working on all these other implements. Think about it, how many times do you have to practice the double and single leg, high crotches and these different takedowns in order to get good at them? Throwing 500 kicks a day, throwing 1,000 knees, elbows and everything, learning how to get out of positions and do submissions … that sucks up a lot of time. So I always put that stuff on the backburner. I had to become a better wrestler, I had to become a better jiu-jitsu fighter, I had to become good at Muay Thai, I had to be able to kick. So I spent my last few years, my last four years, just working on that stuff and ignoring my forte, my pedigree. Now it’s been pointed out to me, "Marcus, you’re good enough, you’re submitting black belts everyday in the gym on the ground, you’re taking down guys left and right. It’s time to go back to what you’re good at and just concentrate on that. You’re well-rounded enough that if it goes to the ground, you can get up and still fight and do what you gotta do." So that’s what I did, I went back to that. My strength and conditioning and wrestling coach back in Bangor, Maine devised a speed program that we started 10 weeks ago that’s just helped change everything. I’ve become much faster than I ever was before — both hands and feet — and along with that, I’m more explosive. So that’s what I’m taking into this. And it’s perfect for this fight. With a guy with a longer reach, I gotta be able to get in there quickly and capitalize on things. Also, the whole thing having to do with speed, I respect Ben and everything, but he’s kind of a slow starter. And as far as 170-pounders go, he’s kinda slow. He’s a big guy. So he’s more like a high 185-pounder, in terms of how speed goes. So I’m going to take advantage of that, I’m going to capitalize on that on Saturday.

Adam Wagner ( When you’re dealing with such a lanky opponent — I think Saunders is 6’3" — especially with a Muay Thai guy, what do you do? Do you try to work in more kicks, or do you just try to get in and out as quickly as possible?

Marcus Davis: No, I’m not going to get in and get out. I’m going to get in and set up camp at arm’s reach. If I can get in there, and I can set up camp at arm’s reach, I’m smothering his kicks, I’m smothering his reach, his punches. I’ve just gotta, once again, watch out for those knees and that Muay Thai clinch. But I’ve already worked on things. You gotta remember, I’m from a Muay Thai school now. So I’m working with guys that are his height, that are trying to grab my neck all day long. So I’m coming into this fight very well-prepared. His strength is his reach, those kicks that he likes to throw from a long range, and then his Muay Thai clinch, his awkwardness of fighting lefty-righty, going back and forth, and then on the ground will be his long guard. That’s what I concentrated on in camp, coming up with many different ways, not just one, but many different ways of dealing with all those situations. And I did it in camp. If I can take what I did in camp and do in on Saturday night, after that fight, people are going to go "Wow, he really has changed. He’s changed it up. He looks different and everything." So that’s what I’m looking forward to — showcasing the newer version of me, and then having people say, "I want to see Davis and Hardy again. That’s a fight we’d like to see. I want to see this new approach against that douchebag."

Adam Wagner ( You’re now slated to face Ben Saunders at UFC 106 on Saturday. This is your first time fighting Stateside since April 2007. Is it good to be fighting in the U.S., or would you prefer to fight in Ireland or the U.K.?

Marcus Davis: Well, obviously, I’m always ecstatic anytime I can fight in Ireland. I’m not even going to bullshit and act like that’s not my favorite place to go and my favorite place to fight. So let’s not even pretend. But I’m happy to fight in the U.S., and the even bigger thing is being able to fight on Spike TV. As you pointed out, I haven’t fought on a regular TV fight since I fought Shonie Carter nearly three years ago. So my last fight in the States was over two years ago — it was against Pete Spratt in Houston. I haven’t fought in the United States since then. Then I fought Jason Tan, Paul Taylor, Paul Kelly, Jess Liaudin, Chris Lytle, Mike Swick, Dan Hardy. All overseas.

Adam Wagner ( Yeah, your fight against Saunders is guaranteed to be broadcast on Spike TV, correct?

Marcus Davis: Yeah, we’re the main guys. We’re the last ones to go on.

Adam Wagner ( I’m glad to see the UFC and Spike are airing more preliminary fights on a consistent basis.

Marcus Davis: Yeah, so am I, I’m pumped.

Adam Wagner ( I don’t think the UFC has been back to New England since UFC 55, I think it was in Connecticut.

Marcus Davis: Correct.

Adam Wagner ( Do you know when or if they are planning to go back? It’s a great market.

Marcus Davis: As of yesterday (Tuesday, November 17), the athletic commission of Boston is now going to regulate MMA, and they are going to do it in the same unified rules, the same way the UFC does it. So the UFC now can look at going to Boston. So that’s big news. I was part of the group that helped get MMA passed in my home state, the state of Maine. And now that it’s been passed, it’s legal, and we’re developing a commission right now there. Dana White has mentioned before that he might want to do an Ultimate Fight Night there, and that would be another thing I would like to do, obviously.

Adam Wagner ( Up in Bangor?

Marcus Davis: Yeah, that would be awesome, man. Imagine a guy like me is able to fulfill a dream and fight in Ireland like I did — twice, especially in Dublin, I mean that was crazy — and then fight as an MMA fighter where my boxing career started and I lived, up in Bangor, Maine … So if I could fight in Ireland, Boston and Bangor, forget about it, man, it’d be awesome.

Adam Wagner ( Judging in MMA has received a lot of negative press recently. The last two UFC main events have ended in controversy. First Machida narrowly pulled off a win against "Shogun" in a fight that many are calling the worst decision of the year; and then Couture just eaked out a decision win over Vera. You come from a professional boxing background, and because of that, I was wondering if you have any insight into how the scoring system in MMA might be able to be improved, or if you think it needs changed at all.

Marcus Davis: Yeah, it definitely needs to be changed, it needs to be improved. It needs to be totally dissected by a panel of people that are involved in the mixed martial arts. No special movie actors or special judges to come up with these rules. (We need) people who are deeply rooted in the sport that can go and say, "Okay, wait a minute, should we give a fighter a full round just because he gets a takedown? What if he gets a takedown, and the other fighter immediately stands up on him? Should there even be any credit for that?" It’s like throwing a jab and missing. It’s trying to take a guy to the ground and try to do my game, but you lose that whole opportunity. Whereas, if you took him down and grounded and pounded him or passed his guard, that’s a big deal. But if you just take people down, and they just keep standing up on ya, how are you being effective? You’re really not, you’re just losing energy, you’re wasting energy. And likewise with a striker. If you’re a striker and you throw 100 punches but only land 10, and the other guy has only thrown 20 but he’s landed 12, who’s being more effective? And then on the ground thing, somebody takes somebody down, they’re holding them there, but they’re not really doing anything … if you take someone down, and you’re sitting in their guard and all you’re doing in their guard is defending submissions, you’ve made a bad choice in taking that guy down. But (the judges) don’t do that. They say, "Well, he got the takedown, that’s huge. Give him the round because he got a takedown." So it definitely needs to be cut up and looked at. Not maybe by somebody like me, but by somebody who’s not favoring one style or one anything. You get a panel of people together and they decide, "Okay, we’re going to put up this chart, so that at the end of each round they can put a check in whatever box, for red corner or blue corner, saying effective striking goes here, Octagon or cage control goes here, submission attempts, takedowns or throws, etc. Just cut it up that way and figure out exactly who deserves to win these fights. Because it is becoming more and more … I hate to say it, but I’m starting to see a lot of things that I saw in boxing. In the past you could arguably say, "Okay this guy won this, but it was really close, so you coulda given it to the other guy because of this." And you had those kind of fights. But now you are seeing ones that really don’t make any sense at all — and more often. So there should be some way to get in there and do this before the purity of what we do starts to go in the crapper like it did in boxing. That’s why boxing lost a lot of fans, and they went to MMA, because MMA was so pure, and it was this primeval thing. At the same time, ethical judging and just more competition … a guy that was 10-0 could get beaten by a guy that was 5-4, whereas in boxing it wasn’t like that. So I really want to see something happen quickly. Anytime we can do something to improve our sport, especially the judging, that needs to be done.

Adam Wagner ( Do you feel confident that they will address this problem soon?

Marcus Davis: There’s so much talk about it, I don’t know why they would ignore it and just stick to the same thing. Even Dana White must be interested in this happening. Like he said, "I’m not a judge, but I thought ‘Shogun’ won." So he has to have some concerns about it. Here he is pumping the best sport in the world, doing everything he can to put on great shows, and he does a great show, and then if you have a bad decision like that, it kind of crushes the show. It hurts all of his efforts. So of course he’s gotta be pro-anything that’s going to further the sport or legitimize MMA even more. The last thing you want to do is start to make it look like boxing was. You know, very … just sketchy.

Adam Wagner ( Well, Marcus, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us, especially this close to a fight. I wanted to give you a chance to say any parting words or if you would like to thank any sponsors.

Marcus Davis: No problem, Adam. Really the only thing I’m going to do is thank a guy who never gets any real thanks from me, and he deserves it, and that’s Garth Krane at my place, Team Irish Mixed Martial Arts in Brewer. He’s really, really gone above and beyond, and I brought him into my camp, I brought him with me from Bangor to Boston for the Sityodtong camp. And then as always, Mark DellaGrotte, my overall head coach. And Jorge Gurgel, who I brought in and was there for my camp for my grappling game. And Tony Blauer. Anyone who’s old school would know who Tony is, but we also brought Tony Blauer in for a couple of weeks too. He’s worked with me and given me his High Gear equipment, and I’ve been using that for my ground and pound and stuff. It’s been pretty awesome.

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