Will Phil Davis become the UFC's first alien champion?
Top light heavyweight prospect Phil Davis will step into the Octagon with Rashad Evans at UFC 133. You all know Rashad Evans. He's in the news almost daily, if not for his fights for his sartorial splendor, his sublime trash talk, and for his awkward fitness videos. Davis is not as well known, perhaps most famous for putting Bo Jackson's shoulders on Michael Jackson's skinny waist. It's really a sight that must be seen. It's also a match that begs a single question, one shouted at the top of your lungs so UFC Vice President Joe Silva can hear it all the way in Richmond, Virginia: What are you thinking?
A former UFC champion, Rashad is seven years in the game. He's been in the cage with the best of the best, with guys who don't need a last name to be recognized: Tito, Chuck, Forrest, Rampage, even the Dragon. Rashad's won The Ultimate Fighter, taken home UFC gold, and let's face it - the man can wear a suit. Phil Davis is not remotely ready for Rashad Evans.
A year prior, almost to the day, Davis was on the undercard of Sonnen-Silva in Oakland, a late replacement for Stanislav Nedkov against an unheralded Rodney Wallace. Not even worthy of a main card spot. A lot can change in a year's time. Prospects are like puppies. You have to nurture them, feed them, clean up their poo, and occasionally smack them on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. You aren't supposed to turn them loose in the lion's den, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Barely more than two years removed from a wrestling career at Penn State that culminated in a 2008 national championship at 197 pounds, Davis is still very much a work in progress. To call his striking rudimentary is an insult to rudiments. His submission game is developing nicely, but he's certainly no Jake Shields. And as we saw in his most recent fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, even his vaunted wrestling needs work.
The techniques, timing, distance, and setup to successfully execute a takedown in a fight are entirely different than the strategies employed in the wrestling room. Davis is learning this on the job and learning it well. It's what a prospect is supposed to do. To this point the UFC has played it smart with Davis. Following a scheme devised by smart boxing managers eons ago, UFC Vice President Joe Silva has carefully matched Davis with a variety of styles and kinds of fighters. He's been on the Heinz 57 tour of the UFC dregs, smart preparation for a career at the top of the game. But something has gone haywire.
It was due time Davis took on a wrestler-boxer. It's a style that predominates at 205 pounds, has since Chuck Liddell did his first elaborately over the top post fight celebration. But to start with Evans? It makes no sense. Evans is a monster. His takedowns are great and his boxing worlds better than Davis's. I understand that down the road Davis will face nothing but the Evans of the world. Everyone in the UFC does, part of the reason careers at the top of the game are so abbreviated.
It's one thing for the UFC to recognize the high speed information age attention spans of their audience and program for it. It's another for them to fall victim to it, pushing too far and too fast. We've seen it before. Rory MacDonald, at just 20, fighting a killer like Carlos Condit. Anthony Johnson jumping from fights with Kevin Burns and Yoshiyuki Yoshida immediately into the deep end with Josh Koscheck.
Give Davis time to learn from his mistakes. Time to become the fighter we want him to be. Phil Davis will have his time at the top. That time is not now.