Phil Davis – I'm Not Mad... I'm Just Disappointed
I think Phil Davis has had enough shit heaped on him since Saturday night, so that's not what I'm here to do, there is no point in throwing him under yet another bus. But like a parent who's kid just got brought home by the cops, I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.
I first took real notice of Davis back in 2010 when he gave the world a new submission move, the Mr. Wonderful, by tapping out Tim Boetsch with a variation of a kimura that no one had ever seen before. I looked and him and said "Within 1-2 years, he and Jon Jones are going to lord over the Light Heavyweight division, he's going to be amazing to watch".
Jones wound up beating my prediction by a full year by ripping Shogun's soul out a few months later and beginning his title reign of terror that has yet to be stopped. Davis on the other hand struggled against Lil Nog just a week later. It was a clear win for Phil, but as I recall he had little to no luck in taking Nog down for the better part of two rounds, that was until he switched to single leg takedowns which are apparently Nogueira's kyptonite.
While his striking was still raw and his amateur wrestling credentials are second to none, his MMA wrestling has never been close to elite in my opinion. But I chalked it up him still being a bit green (it was only his 9th fight) and figured he would continue to develop and round out his skills.
His next fight was almost a year later when he faced Rashad Evans in a LHW title eliminator. I was picking Evans due to being the far more seasoned fighter, but I didn't expect him to completely dominate Phil standing up and on the ground. Davis' NCAA pedigree counted for nothing, I believe he only managed to take Rashad down twice over the course of 25 minutes and just looked out of his element the entire night.
Having him fight Evans at that point was clearly just throwing him to the wolves, Rashad needed an impressive win to setup the grudge match with Jones, and Davis was the sacrificial lamb. But while this was a big setback for him, he was still young enough to shore up the holes in his game that Evans so flawlessly exploited.
Skipping forward to his fight with Lyoto Machida last year, we saw that he had made great strides in tightening up his striking. It still left a lot to be desired, but it at least it was still light years better than what he had shown before. While many felt his win was a gift/robbery (I thought it was fair), at least he was showing signs of progression, even if it wasn't happening nearly as much or as fast as it should have been for someone ranked in the top 10.
That brings us to his fight with Anthony Johnson at UFC 172. I was picking Mr. Wonderful based on his superior wrestling, gas tank, and confidence coming off the Machida fight. I was hoping he had finally figured out how to grow by leaps and bounds between fights like Jones had. And sadly, I was totally wrong. If Rumble didn't just outright stuff every takedown Davis attempted, then he punished him for even trying to do so, he just brutalized Phil in every striking exchange.
To Phil's credit, he ate every shot and was never close to being put out, but he looked like he was fighting a much larger and stronger version of Evans out there. He just did not look like someone who's ranked as high as he is.
Don't take this to mean that I'm writing Davis off as a bust, I still have high hopes for him and think he could be a serious threat to anyone at 205, but that's only going to happen if he makes some serious changes. Phil is only 29 and I'd like to think it's not too late for him to break through his apparent glass ceiling, if I was in his shoes, I'd do two things. One, I'd give Duane Ludwig a call and spend the next 6 months eating, sleeping, and shitting his instructions. Two, I would leave Alliance and head to AKA to spend another 6 months working with the likes of Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez so he can finally translate his NCAA wrestling skills into MMA wrestling.
Unless he does something drastic and soon, I fear he'll end up as something of a 205lb version of Roy Nelson, a very talented but also very limited fighter who will never be more than a gatekeeper. And I don't want to see that happen to Mr. Wonderful, I still believe in Phil Davis.