Phil Davis Plays the Waiting Game

By: Jason Burgos
May 22, 2020

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Phil Davis has no set date to return to the Bellator MMA cage—a reality which sits just fine with the former light heavyweight champion.

While the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its roster of mixed martial artists steam ahead with multiple events in May despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Davis seems content with Bellator’s direction and more than willing to remain on the sidelines for just a bit longer.

“During these times, you get to see people are thinking about your safety, and it’s not to say the UFC has not done that,” Davis told Sherdog.com. “I do believe they’ve gone through enormous efforts to protect their fighters, but to see how my company responded to this outbreak … man, I’m on your team. Thank you. When I go to train, I could get my children or wife sick, my parents or my in-laws, and those are pieces that can’t be replaced. For someone looking out for me in that way, I’m thankful.”

Those concerns are why Davis feels no envy towards his UFC counterparts, as they return to competition with the rest of the industry in a self-imposed freeze. He understands the reasons why fighters were willing to step back into the Octagon, but he was relieved when Bellator did not ask him to make the same choice.

“There’s no envy in terms of what they can do compared to what I can do,” Davis said. “I appreciate across the board, and I’m thankful I did not have to worry that someone I love would die based on my need to make money and fight. In that regard, I feel for my brothers over in the UFC. If I were asked to compete and I needed the money, no doubt I’m going to do that. The point is what could be lost. It’s a difficult decision any way you slice it.”

Some view Davis’ willingness to speak out on the business during a global health crisis as a breath of fresh air. However, the ability to voice his opinion without fear of repercussions only increases his sense of loyalty to Bellator.

“I think many [fighters’] opinion on this is in line with what their boss wants to hear,” Davis said. “I truly believe if I speak my mind on this [that] I’m not going to get a phone call. My boss is cool man. Whether I’m one of those guys that says, ‘This is bull crap, I should be out there fighting,’ or whether I believe this is an extremely dangerous time and disease, I think it’s super important to know the organization has your back.”

That support played a major role in Davis’ decision to sign a new multi-year contract with Bellator in 2019. Dollars and cents matter, but for the 35-year-old Alliance MMA rep, the “family” atmosphere fostered by the staff and the ability to be himself mattered just as much.

“That’s a huge part of it,” Davis said. “I love working with Bellator, and they’ve provided me some opportunities out of fighting that I really enjoyed. They provide a place and atmosphere where I can be myself and really enjoy the entire game. I believe Bellator trusts me and their fighters to just go out and fight, have fun and entertain. They trust we want to be a mixed martial arts star, but to do that in your own way is invaluable, and I love and respect Bellator for their support in that way.”

A common complaint among Bellator fighters involves inactivity. Although Davis admits there were definite pros to competing more frequently in the UFC, he believes a less-active schedule has benefitted him on many levels, including the ability to circumvent the natural “occupational hazards” associated with his job.

“This is not a knock on either organization. [Fighting less] allowed me to develop,” Davis said. “When you sign that contract to fight someone, you’re preparing to fight that guy, and now, having [more] time in between fights, it has allowed me to just blossom, take my time in each facet of my game and bring it together in a way I was never able to do before. I appreciate that part of it. I would like to fight a little bit more, but at the same time, I’ve also been able to heal from my injuries. Brain injury is a big part of this sport. I like to tell my guys, don’t be stupid. You get into that cage and sign that contract, no one’s going to call you the ‘P’ word. You’re tough, so when you take time after a loss, no one’s calling you a jerk for not jumping back into training. You need to take that time for yourself. You pay it forward to your body later.”

Taking it all into account, it becomes easy to understand why Davis chose not to test his value in free agency. A 12-year veteran with an impressive 21-5 record, he would certainly have been a sought-after commodity for every organization around the globe. However, with Bellator meeting all of his needs, “Mr. Wonderful” saw no purpose in seeking out offers from other promotions.

“The place I’m in now is such a beautiful and blessed place,” Davis said. “I like the rhythm that Bellator has and the leadership. In everything, you need to have a reason why. Sometimes the grass is actually greener, but without the why, there’s no actual reason to explore [free agency]. Re-signing was kind of a no-brainer. The organization [and] leadership has been great to me.”

When the Bellator schedule does resume, Davis will find himself in a difficult position. Having lost to current light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader twice before—once in the UFC and once in Bellator—he seems unlikely to land another shot at the title anytime soon. A split decision loss to current No. 1 contender Vadim Nemkov in November 2018 weakened his position further. While a rematch with Nemkov interests Davis should the Russian unseat Bader, he also ranks the opportunity to face “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner a third time high on his list of priorities.

“The short answer [about a Nemkov win] is sure, but the longer answer is I really want to beat Ryan Bader,” Davis said. “Maybe that happens, and maybe that doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. I want to be the guy that beats him. He’s on an amazing run right now, and truthfully, I love that he’s had all the success that he has because I want to beat that caliber of guy. So, it’s a yes and no, but at the end of the day I want to entertain.”
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