This Bellator 1-night, 4-man tournament really is a strange contraption. Dynamite is set to go down on Saturday, September 19th in San Jose, California. And while it's not the main event, the tournament definitely seems like the center attraction. Recently I highlighted, in my interview with Emanuel Newton, how Newton was not only the most experienced, but one of the younger participants in the field. And, somewhat surprisingly, the only participant to hold the Bellator LHW strap. This time I got a chance to highlight another interesting figure with a spot in the bracket, someone who also occupies a very distinct fighting identity: Phil Davis.
"Mr. Wonderful" as he's called, after a once beloved pet cat, is the only one of these 4, top-15 level light heavyweight fighters to compete for the UFC. He rose pretty high up the ranks there, before fighting out his contract and making the jump over to Bellator. As such, it could be said that he's coming in with something of a burden of expectation (although he assures me he doesn't see it that way). But whether it's his view or not, it does feel like this tournament will put him on front street. Succeed here and reaffirm his spot as a world class fighter, or be left battling for roster space. Davis spoke to Bloody Elbow about the special circumstances of a 1-night tournament, and how his approach is anything but special for it:
"No, I'm not really doing anything different to prepare for this fight," Davis stated, when asked about his prep for Dynamite. "I still have one fight to win. I have to beat Emanuel Newton. After I beat Emanuel Newton, then I'm in a tournament. So, don't win that fight, then you're not in the tournament. I think the most important thing is just to concentrate on what I do know vs. what I don't know and win that fight.
"Each guy has to fight for himself. I don't really get too far ahead of myself or imagine who I would face after I won. Those guys have their own scrap. They have their own fights. And how would I know how those guys' training camps are going. It's just, for me, it's silly to think about who would win the bracket on the other side. My job is to win my fight and then those guys gotta worry about me."
That "business as usual" approach goes for his first round opponent too. Despite Newton's singular fighting style, Davis made it clear that the important part to him is making sure he makes Newton fight how he wants him to:
"I just need to make sure that I'm prepared and I'm the best me," Said Davis, about tailoring a plan to beat Newton. "He's going to have to face a very tough Phil Davis. And if I get away from being a tough Phil Davis and I get into fighting Emanuel Newton, it takes me too far out of my game. So, the biggest thing is just making sure that I'm sharp and I'm on my game."
And maybe still look out for a few spinning backfists on the way... "Oh, you definitely want to look out for it! I mean, he's got it. I'm not going to act like he don't got it. He's got it. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that the biggest thing is to make sure that I do what I do successfully."
One of the big edges it seems like Phil could have is all his wrestling experience, going through multiple matches in a single day, understanding the necessities of not knowing who your next fight will be that day. But, Davis isn't entirely sure his experience will carry over:
"It's very similar, but it's completely different. I have competed four or five times in one day and I'm confident I can do that again, but at the same time it's much different competition. The biggest thing is just being able to stay re-focused from one fight to the next. Like, right now, after I win a fight I'm like, 'Man, I'm ready to relax and hang out with the family.' After I win my next fight, I'll have to re-focus and stay mentally prepared to go out and fight again."
Davis is something of a rare figure in that, unlike many of the other fighters to move from the UFC to Bellator recently, he's doing so right at the competitive peak of his career. Looking back on his time in the UFC from his new Bellator contract, however, Davis doesn't seem to give much service to the idea that he got any less out of it than he might have earned:
"I will speak to the fact that every organization I fought for picked me up when I was young in my career," was Davis' response to the idea that the UFC may have put bigger expectations on him than were reasonable. "And even still I feel like I'm really growing into myself, now that I'm with Bellator. All I am is thankful that those organizations took a chance on me. I was able to grab some experience with some top level fighters, that I would not have been able to do fighting for someone else at the time. So, I mean, looking back I'm like, 'Man, I've got experience, I've got all the tools, and just now feel like I'm really coming into my own.'"
And he especially wanted to make it clear that he's not just giving Bellator a chance to see what they can offer. He's here because of Coker's track record:
"I want to go ahead and change some of the verbiage of what you said. You said that guys like Josh Thomson, Josh Koscheck, and myself are "testing the waters of Bellator," and Scott Coker needs no test. This guy is proven. He's an awesome promoter. Guys love to fight for him. He runs a great promotion, which is why guys love to fight for him. People compare him too... People!? I compare him to Bill Belichick. Guys love to play for Bill Belichick! Now, regardless of whoever has criticism of Bill Belichick and this and that, you won't ever hear his players talking bad about him, because they freaking love him."
Over time, Davis along with his camp Alliance MMA, have gotten some criticism for the striking acumen of some of their fighters. Mostly, that it seems from the outside, like everyone ends up getting crammed into a Dominick Cruz-esque mold, whether it works for them or not. But, Davis doesn't put much stock in fan perception:
"There are certain things that our team does very well and there are things that our team does very uniquely," Said Davis when asked about the Alliance style of striking. "I think anybody that tries to be like Dominic Cruz is just playing themselves. He's the guy that does everything backwards, but it works for him. I don't think anybody actually tries to be like Dominic Cruz. But, I do think, when you train with a guy and you see certain things, you implement them into your game. It's not even like I'm trying to do it. If you're hitting me with straight right hands, well I'm going to learn how to do straight right hands. If you're hitting me with an overhand, I'm going to learn to do that. It's just one of those things."
So with a tournament in front of him and a new fighting home under his feet, how much longer is Davis going to be strapping on the gloves?
"I think the plan is pretty much just always ride this wagon until the wheels fall off, sort of thing. And that's the plan. I love working out, I love training, I love competing, and I don't know how much longer I can do it. But, I don't see a finish line any time in the near future."
You can follow Phil Davis on Twitter @PhilMrWonderful