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Phil Davis’ Success Harms Bellator Brand

Bellator Phil Davis
Kristian Ibarra, Today's Knockout

Well, you can’t say Liam McGeary didn’t have his promotion’s best interest when saying he didn’t want ex-UFC light heavyweight Phil Davis to win the four-man, one-night light heavyweight tournament at Bellator Dynamite 1.

“For him to come into Bellator and be like, ‘oh yeah, I want a title shot; I should get a title shot’ because he came from UFC — it doesn’t work like that,” he told Today’s Knockout before the tournament. “You have to fight and earn your position and earn a chance to fight for a belt, prove yourself in this division.”

Davis did prove himself, though — and he did so in impressive fashion.

You could call it a brilliant move by Scott Coker and Bellator. Unlike the previous signings of Tito Ortiz, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson or Stephan Bonnar, Coker finally managed to lure a top-flight contender away from the UFC in the midst of said fighter’s prime. It was a big move for the promotion, showing the UFC’s fighters — many of whom find themselves upset with the promotion’s exclusive sponsorship with Reebok — that they do, in fact, have options.

Then again, you’d also be wearing blinders if you refuse to acknowledge what this looks like from a macroscopic lens.

Yes, “Mr. Wonderful” is a member of the Bellator roster. But that doesn’t mean we’ve all suddenly removed any sort of affiliations he shared with the sport’s biggest promoter just eight months ago. In essence, he’s an ex-UFC fighter competing in Bellator, which isn’t necessarily the sort of connection you want people making.

Coming into the sport about three years after the UFC had already begun its meteoric rise to the top of the mixed martial arts world, Bellator has always been known as little brother. Even then, the UFC wasn’t its only big brother in the early days; Bellator had to contend with Strikeforce for half a decade before it could start working its way up to the silver medal.

And now that it’s earned the second-place prize for two years in a row, Bellator’s ready to start making the journey to the top of the mountain.

But having Davis as its light heavyweight champion — a feat he stands a solid chance accomplishing — won’t help Bellator get there, not while people still have vivid memories of the three losses he suffered inside the Octagon.

In Bellator, Davis looked unstoppable. He ran through the promotion’s former light heavyweight champion in a way nobody had seen since 2009 — including the promotion’s current light heavyweight champion. Davis’ victory over Francis Carmont, his second victory of the night, was equally as impressive.

But he didn’t look quite as spectacular in the UFC, and you’re probably certain of the reason why.

Rank Name Record vs. Davis
C Daniel Cormier N/A
1. Anthony Johnson 1-0
2. Alexander Gustafsson 0-1
3. Glover Teixeira 0-1
4. Rashad Evans 1-0
5. Ryan Bader 1-0

Information via UFC.com

Francis Carmont bears no resembling talents to Rashad Evans. Emmanuel Newton — while possessing unorthodox, yet effective striking techniques — is nowhere near the fighter Anthony “Rumble” Johnson is. That’s not to say they aren’t talented fighters in their own right, but in a sport’s world that identifies itself based on the rankings “experts” create, you have to acknowledge what lines have been drawn.

As arbitrary as those lines may appear to be from time to time, Saturday night’s tournament proved they aren’t always irrelevant. Davis — once an “almost there” title contender in the UFC’s wasteland of a 205-pound division run by Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier — might just be the best light heavyweight under the Bellator banner.

So long as you have those lines floating around your cranium, you’ll remember where Davis stands in the bigger picture.

Because, for as frustrating as it may be to have those questions linger on, that’s the excitement of having champions of the same division competing in different promotions. Many a casual fan would assume Rafael dos Anjos is better than Will Brooks, or that Robbie Lawler would run circles past Ben Askren. Regardless of what certainties resumes and fight tapes may provide us, we can’t recognize either of the two previous statements as fact. That’s what keeps second- and third-tier promotions alive: the mystery.

A gold-wrapped Davis leaves no mystery. It’ll serve as a constant reminder that none of Bellator’s top fighters — not Newton, Carmont, McGeary or Davis — could compete with anybody in the UFC’s top five.

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