Four fights into his career with Bellator MMA, Phil Davis is a champion.
The former UFC light heavyweight contender defeated Liam McGeary at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut Friday, becoming the first man to hand the crafty Englishman an L inside pro competition.
The problem, if you’re comfortable calling it that, is Davis made it look easy. Too easy.
“Mr. Wonderful” stepped into the cage with a man we all thought would be the better striker, but proved his output would squander McGeary’s chances of ever landing the home run shot. What’s more, we also figured — despite Davis’ unparalleled accolades as a wrestler under the Bellator banner — McGeary’s size, length and grappling skill-set would, at the very least, make this a competitive fight once it hit the canvas.
It wasn’t. Not even close. So much so that anything short of a 50-45 nod for Davis would have been highway robbery, and rare scores like 50-43 were wholly accepted by those who watched through the 25-minute drubbing handed out from the challenger.
Consider this: Davis, arguably the No. 4 or 5 light heavyweight while on the UFC roster, earned a 50-43 nod against the very best 205-pound fighter Bellator has ever had. He may not have made it look entertaining, nor was he ever considerably near finishing the fight, but he was never — not even for a second over the course of 25 minutes — in any real danger. Davis was intelligent, taking advantage of the openings McGeary left for the takedown, easily passing the guard and slipping in and out of full mount.
Davis is a champion, forcing us to beg the question: Now what?
The Alliance MMA light heavyweight made his debut last September, taking on former Bellator light heavyweight champion Emanuel Newton and Francis Carmont in one night. Newton lasted just over four minutes and 30 seconds before tapping out to a kimura; Vassell just over two minutes before becoming the first man to ever be knocked out by Davis in pro competition.
Two of Bellator’s top light heavyweights shrugged away before Davis could get a good sweat going.
Eight months later, “Mr. Wonderful” worked his way into a unanimous decision against Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. While considered a controversial outcome, the victory rewarded Davis with the title shot he capitalized on Friday.
If you’re keeping count, Davis has already defeated the four best light heavyweights on the roster.
Though a rematch with Lawal seems to be the most logical matchup to make, the options grow far more grim in the aftermath. Suppose Davis wins his rematch against Lawal, and does so more convincingly than he did the first time out. We’re left with names like Linton Vassell, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson or Chael Sonnen.
In terms of market value, it’s clear Sonnen’s name would top the list. Currently in a war of words with Tito Ortiz before hitting the cage in January, the former UFC middleweight and light heavyweight title challenger could certainly find himself competing for the belt at some point in 2016 with a win. But considering how badly Sonnen has performed against bigger, faster and more efficient wrestlers in the past (re: Jon Jones vs. Sonnen, Rashad Evans vs. Sonnen), there’s little reason to believe his chances against Davis are very high.
Then there’s “Rampage,” who at 38 years old and two years removed from making the cut to 206 pounds, has long stated he has little interest in returning to the 205-pound division or fighting for a Bellator championship with how soon his contract is set to expire.
Vassell could be considered a worthy challenger, but with the way things are lining up he’d likely be forced to defeat his fellow Englishman McGeary to solidify himself as the No. 1 contender. Despite his loss Friday, McGeary remains a sizable wrench to any other light heavyweight’s plans of reaching the Bellator throne.
Just as it is in the UFC, Bellator’s 205-pound division is a wasteland filled with many tiers. Davis, all alone atop the class in Bellator, should cross his fingers somebody starts to stand out sooner rather than later.