In 2008 Phil Davis won a NCAA Division 1 wrestling title, rounding out a career where he was a 4 time All-American. He made his MMA debut later that year, and by June 2009 he had racked up a 4-0 record and was noticed by the UFC. He came in and immediately found success with wins over Brian Stann, and another hot prospect named Alexander Gustafsson. Davis racked up three more victories before running into perhaps the best version of Rashad Evans that ever fought in the UFC.
But what if Phil Davis had chosen to go to Bellator back in 2010. LHW outside of UFC, and Strikeforce was, and for the most part still is a waste land. Bellator's first LHW tourney was in 2011, but for the sake of argument lets say that they would have held a tourney to accommodate a hot prospect back in 2010, they did for Cole Konrad at HW. I have little doubt that Davis would have run through any competition that Bellator could have produced at the time. The first Bellator Tourney had guys like Christian M'Pumbu, Chris Davis, Tim Carpenter, and Rich Hale. I don't just think Davis would have won, but I think he would have submitted, or TKO'd most of them. Then Bellator would have brought in journeymen like Travis Wiuff to fight Davis giving him the chance to once again look like an MMA wrestling monster. He would have experienced some periods of inactivity, but when he did fight he would have looked great, and have quickly been in the discussion for best fighter outside of UFC.
Fast forward to 2013. UFC has an amazing LHW Champion in Jon Jones, who also made his MMA debut in 2008. Many people don't think Jones has a legitimate threat at LHW. But what if Davis, with his elite amateur wrestling credentials, and athleticism was coming upon free agency at the end of a dominating run in Bellator. If Hector Lombard can land a $400K signing bonus, six figure per fight salary, and PPV points, what would the younger, and probably even more hyped Davis command? Eddie Alvarez 2 fights removed from a loss in Bellator has also commanded a $250K signing bonus, $70K/$70K salary, PPV points, and wording in his contract regarding a quick title fight.
Instead of a situation where Davis leaves Bellator with a ton of hype, and would probably be walking into a title shot later this year, the reality is that Davis is a solid contender but isn't near the top of the list for a title shot. Alexander Gustaffson (Only has lost to Davis), Glover Teixiera, and Lyoto Machida all seem to be well ahead of Davis in line. Another fighter he has defeated "lil Nog" is also likely to jump past Davis in line for a title shot if he can defeat Shogun Rua in June. Davis is next matched against a marginal top 25 talent in Vinny Magalhaes to answer being called out on twitter. A win here will do little for Davis except to help him tread water and hope for a big fight next time out.
The thought to write this piece came from comments I have heard where fans ask, why would top young prospects sign with Bellator? To me it actually makes sense. I almost wrote this piece about Johny Hendricks, but he is actually in a position to cash in on a title shot right now, so Davis is a better example. Michael Chandler, Pat Curran, and even Ben Askren are getting close to cashing in on the bidding war that is breaking out between Viacom and Zuffa for elite Bellator talent. Prospects are going to notice this, and think that if they have a better chance of looking good running the Bellator tourney on SPIKE TV, instead of grinding away up very deep divisions in UFC sometimes on Facebook it is worth the risk. I think that HW, and LHW prospects will especially take notice considering how weak the divisions are in Bellator.