SAN DIEGO — The early afternoon training session is complete at Alliance MMA in Chula Vista, California and Phil Davis is leading the way in a post-workout stretch.
He calls on his teammates to sit in an “Indian” style position; they groan.
He adjusts the phrase for those politically correct and calls on them to sit in “Native American” style instead; they laugh.
Davis calls on them to stick their legs out and touch their toes. Just like that, fighters like former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, former TUF 20 contestant Angela Hill and UFC flyweights Danny Martinez and Wilson Reis all comply.
It’s those differing minds, coupled with Alliance’s head trainer Eric Del Fierro that Davis is as confident as ever going into his first fight with a new promotion. Having proven himself against the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and Lyoto Machida, Davis finds himself in need to prove himself once more.
He’ll get his chance in spades come Sept. 19, when “Mr. Wonderful” will be tasked with fighting two men in one night at Bellator: Dynamite 1’s four-man, one-night tournament in San Jose.
“Absolutely not,” Davis told Today’s Knockout on whether he was apprehensive about agreeing to the same-day tournament. “I think I was the first guy to get asked and I was absolutely all in. Just because I want that title shot and this is a great way to do it. I’ll fight two great guys in the division and after I win that I’ll fight for the title. It’s great to go into a position like that knowing some of the other guys in the field. In the UFC, I’d fought a lot of the guys prior to being in the top 10, the top five. It’s good to get some of the tough guys out of the way.”
At most, Davis will need to go five rounds to secure his title shot. His first bout against former Bellator light heavyweight champion Emmanuel Newton will be scheduled for two rounds. Should Davis be victorious, he’ll find himself in a three-round tournament final match with either Muhammed Lawal or Linton Vassell (assuming they all remain healthy enough to engage in a second fight).
Sure, Davis is making sure he’s prepared by watching enough tape and ensuring his body will be capable of going 25 minutes. But there are also circumstances he can’t possibly prepare for—certain situations that may develop beyond his control.
“It’s a little different because you have time to cool off, get cold and then all of a sudden these mystery injuries start popping up,” Davis said. “As soon as you get done fighting, you could fight another two or three rounds, but two hours later you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do to my hand? My elbow?’ That’s kind of an unknown, there’s nothing I can really do to prevent that.”
But as a wrestler, Davis might just hold the key to succeed in a tournament of this format. A four-time Division I All-American and 2008 NCAA champion in wrestling at Penn State University, Davis harbors the capacity to force an opponent onto the canvas, preventing him from administering any sort of substantial damage that leads to those post-fight mystery injuries.
Davis is smart, though. He knows that having plaques, trophies and medals from his amateur wrestling days as a Nittany Lion aren’t enough to win a decision against just any fighter, especially not one in Newton.
He also faces the impossible task of balancing his approach on Sept. 19. Playing it safe might prevent an opponent from landing too many damaging blows, but it could also lead to a narrow decision for the judges to make. Just one fight removed from a split-decision loss to Ryan Bader at UFC on FOX 14, Davis certainly wouldn’t want that.
Marching forward for the knockout finish would ensure victory, but being reckless could lead to injuries that may hamper one’s performance in the tournament final. Witnessing the sort of unorthodox counter striking Newton possesses, Davis would be wise to shy from this angle, too.
“You just want to be mindful of everything, but just be smart,” Davis said. “Control range, control distance and be first.”