Phil Davis plans to one day reclaim the Bellator MMA light heavyweight championship, but he first must clear the latest hurdle being placed in front of him: a rematch with Lyoto Machida.
Buoyed by a modest two-fight winning streak, Davis will lock horns with “The Dragon” in the Bellator 245 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connect. There, the victor could emerge as the next contender for newly crowned light heavyweight titleholder Vadim Nemkov. Davis last appeared in October, when he turned away Karl Abrektsson with punches and elbows in the third round of their Bellator 231 pairing and improved to 8-2 under the Bellator flag. Now, he prepares for his second encounter with Machida, a man he defeated by unanimous decision at UFC 163 a little more than seven years ago.
In advance of Davis’ rematch with the Brazilian karateka, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. An Emerging Star
It was not the spectacular, jaw-dropping coming-out party for which many had hoped, but Davis nevertheless toppled respected Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by unanimous decision in the UFC Fight Night 24 main event on March 26, 2011 in Seattle. All three judges scored it 30-27 for “Mr. Wonderful.” The three-round affair shed light on how far Davis had come in his development and how far he had left to go. A fantastic wrestler and superior athlete, he failed to secure a takedown against Nogueira in the first round, and though he threw kicks liberally and without reservation, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native was still a work in progress on the feet. Even so, the fight also showcased Davis’ ability and willingness to adapt on the fly, as he switched from a double- to a single-leg takedown attack in the second and third rounds and found success in doing so.
2. Learning Curve
In a stellar all-around performance, Rashad Evans put all of his weapons to use and captured a lopsided unanimous decision from the previously unbeaten Davis in the UFC on Fox 2 headliner on Jan. 28, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. Evans swept the scorecards by identical 50-45 counts, pitching MMA’s equivalent of a shutout. Vastly superior striking, airtight grappling and superb defensive wrestling were all in play for Evans. Davis was effective early in the first round with kicks to the leg and body and a nice right hand from the clinch. However, Evans shut down the 2008 NCAA wrestling champion, securing a takedown off an ill-timed kick and later moving into a mounted crucifix position that had Davis squirming like a fish out of water. The scene repeated itself in the second and fifth rounds. At a sizeable disadvantage in terms of experience, Davis had grown tentative by Round 2 and threw his strikes with far less vigor. Evans capitalized, answering his opponent’s single shots with crisp multi-punch combinations. He was particularly sharp with his right uppercut and had Davis bleeding from the mouth midway through the 25-minute encounter. Most importantly, Evans stonewalled the four-time collegiate All-American’s takedowns and made him pay a hefty price for errant attempts.
3. Another Brazilian Bites the Dust
Repeated takedowns and steady ground-and-pound spurred Davis to a unanimous decision over the favored Glover Teixeira in the UFC 179 co-main event on Oct. 25, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. All three judges struck 30-27 scorecards for the Alliance MMA stalwart, who rebounded from a lopsided loss to Anthony Johnson some six months earlier. “Mr. Wonderful” kept Teixeira at a safe distance with his length and athleticism, blending together his kicks and punches. He struck for the first of multiple takedowns with roughly two minutes remaining in Round 1 and began blasting away with punches. Davis slowly chipped away at the Brazilian’s resolve over the course of the second and third rounds and even transitioned to full mount late in the fight. By the time their 15 minutes was up, Teixeira had conceded nine takedowns and been outstruck by a staggering 109-14 margin.
4. Grand Entrance
Davis knocked out Francis Carmont with a lunging left hook and follow-up punches in the Bellator MMA “Dynamite” Grand Prix final at Bellator 142 on Sept. 19, 2015 in San Jose, California. A last-minute replacement for the injured Muhammed Lawal, Carmont succumbed to blows 2:15 into Round 1 before a crowd of 11,732 at the SAP Center. The two finalists circled one another while pawing with punches and kicks—until Davis connected. Carmont folded at the base of the cage and did not recover in time to successfully defend himself. “Mr. Wonderful” pounced and knocked the Frenchman unconscious with a series of kneeling right hands, staking his claim as Bellator’s No. 1 contender at 205 pounds. Davis had earlier at the same event dazzled in his organizational debut, as he submitted former Bellator champion Emanuel Newton with a first-round kimura in the tournament semifinals. Newton conceded defeat 4:39 into Round 1, as he was submitted for the first time in more than six years.
5. Golden Glory
“Mr. Wonderful” outclassed Liam McGeary across five uncompetitive rounds to capture the Bellator MMA light heavyweight championship in the Bellator 163 headliner on Nov. 4, 2016 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Davis curried favor with all three judges, as evidenced by the 50-43, 50-45 and 50-45 scores and the fact that he was awarded multiple 10-8 rounds. Davis painted a masterpiece. The Eric Del Fierro protégé struck for takedowns and advanced to full mount in all five rounds, as he methodically dismantled the previously unbeaten McGeary. Davis avoided danger on the feet and kept the Englishman off-balance with a steady diet of leg kicks and basic one-twos. However, he did his best work on the ground. There, Davis shredded the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt’s guard with sublime positional control, smooth guard passes and damaging, elbow-laced ground-and-pound.