From winning a one-night Grand Prix tournament to claiming the light-heavyweight championship, Phil Davis’ first 30 months with Bellator have been far from uneventful. Now, Davis prepares for an event that will be hosted at Penn State- his alma mater and a college with rich links to MMA through its wrestling program.
Jovial and light-hearted as always, Davis spoke to Everlast ahead of his bout with the undefeated Leo Leite at Bellator 186 on November 3rd.
You’ve been at Bellator for over 2 years now, was getting them to bring an event to Penn State always part of the plan?
Phil Davis: Oh yeah- it was always part of the plan. It’s great that it happened, but I honestly didn’t know that it was possible because there haven’t been any MMA fights at Penn State. As soon as I heard that it was a possibility I was like, ‘Man, this is going to be an amazing, amazing event.’
How many times have you competed at the Bryce Jordan Center?
PD: So we had one meet in the Bryce Jordan Center whilst I was there, but most of my matches were in Rec Hall- and every now and then we would go to the basketball arena and have a match as well, so yeah I have some experience there.
I’m sure fighting at Madison Square Garden was incredible, but in a way are you looking forward to competing in front of this crowd just as much?
PD: Yeah, I think so. MSG is one of those places- it’s a historic arena and an all-around big deal, but this is uniquely special to me, as I’m sure it’s special to Ed Ruth, because we have so much history here. We spent so much time there, we’ve walked around that campus dozens and dozens of times- it’ll be great for us.
Will you have a lot of family and friends at the event?
PD: Yeah, the town I grew up in- Harrisburg PA, is about an hour away, so a lot of my family and friends will travel up and a bunch of my teammates are coming back in town for it, so it’ll be a good time.
How much do you know about Leo Leite? Obviously, he’s extremely well-credentialed on the grappling scene, have you ever crossed paths before?
PD: I’ve seen a little bit of video on Leo, he looks pretty solid all the way around, looks pretty tough, looks pretty strong, good grappling game, good stand-up game. He’s good all the way around; I just think I’m better.
Sometimes, when you watch video of guys who aren’t necessarily fighting top guys, it’s hard to know how good they are. I can’t say how good a guy is based on fighting someone if I don’t know how good that opponent is- everybody can look great against a guy who’s not that good, but Leo does look solid all-around.
Someone he did look good against was Fabrício Werdum- Leite is a two-time black-belt world champion and holds two wins in grappling against Werdum. On the other hand, you’re a four-time Division 1 All American with many submission wins in MMA- is this going to be a grappling affair?
PD: It’s hard to say- a lot of times two grapplers get together and it’s a striking match, sometimes it is a grappling match, so you know it all depends.
Speaking of grappling, have you been training at 10th planet jiu-jitsu for this fight?
PD: Yeah, I’ve done a little training over there- Ilima-Lei [Macfarlane] invited me down and we’ve just been working hard, working on some 10th planet craziness.
Your style has included some unique submissions in the past, how has the 10th planet system worked for you?
PD: For me, it’s all about experience, and until you have experienced rubber guard, you may be able to defend and get out of things in the spur of the moment, but it’s not the same as having an understanding of the system in your repertoire. Just knowing how to defend something isn’t enough, I want to know how to defend something and how to use it.
Not many fighters get to name their own submission in MMA, but recently Demetrious Johnson got the opportunity to do so and went with ‘The Mighty Wiz-Bar.’ As one of the few men in MMA who has had been able to name a submission (the Mr. Wonderful), what did you think of that choice of name?
PD: -Laughs- That boy’s bad, man- that’s what I think. He can name it whatever the heck he wants to- that boy is bad. He’s a bad dude man! A lot of people count him out of the pound-for-pound discussion, but, man, he made the case for himself loud and clear. He’s so good, he’s so quick, he’s very inventive. That’s one of those positions that every fighter has been in a time or two, but he’s the one who got there and figured out how to pull something like that off against a good guy. He’s a stud, man.
Have you ever seen a transition like that, at any level in MMA or grappling?
PD: I’ve seen it in jiu-jitsu, but not so much in MMA.
You have to admit, ‘The Mouse Trap’ would have been a better name!
PD: It had to be Mouse Trap, right? Come on! Maybe I’ll message him and let him know, tell him he should reconsider. Although I heard recently that he’s trying to get away from the ‘Mouse’ nickname a little bit, he said people associate that with being a little dude so I think he’s getting away from ‘Mouse,’ so maybe he named it better.
I don’t want to be on his bad side- he’ll walk up behind me and put me in an armbar.
A lot of Bellator fighters, like Michael Chandler, Gegard Mousasi and Rory MacDonald, have talked about competing in multiple weight classes recently, and it seems like Scott Coker would be quite happy to allow that, is competing at heavyweight something that would interest you?
PD: You know, I’m open to it. Here’s the thing; do I think I can beat all the heavyweights out there? No, I just have to be honest with myself and say no- but I can be competitive with a bunch of guys in the field. Here’s what would bother me; I wouldn’t want to be the guy who would pick and choose his fights. At light-heavyweight, I will fight any single person there is, but at heavyweight, there are some guys I’d rather not tangle with!
That’s my whole thing, I hate the idea of being chicken and at my weight-class there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’d get in there with anyone. At heavyweight, there are some guys who are just a little bit too much horse for me. If somebody said, ‘Phil, do you want Mark Hunt?’ you know what, I’ll pass- I’ll pass on him. -Laughs-
Considering heavyweight is not Bellator’s deepest division, meaning there could realistically be a relatively quick route to a title shot there, would the temptation of a third Bellator belt be too much to resist?
PD: Sure, for a title shot, that would be tempting, absolutely.
Did you see Mousasi’s fight with Alexander Shlemenko, and if so how did you score it?
PD: I did- that was a great fight. I agree with the decision, I thought Gegard did enough, it was a tough fight though, I’ll tell you that.
Would you be interested in welcoming Mousasi to Bellator’s light-heavyweight division if he returned to 205 lbs.?
PD: Oh absolutely- Mousasi has been one of my favorite fighters for a long time- since Strikeforce days; he’s always been a guy who I keep an eye on. When I respect a fighter, I want to run my skills up against his skills to see how good they are, and he’s one of those guys. I love his style and I love what he does inside the cage.
Speaking of the light-heavyweight division, you’ve shared 8 rounds with the champ Ryan Bader now, with both fights going to split-decisions. If you face him again in the future, how do you make the result more conclusive, or are you just too evenly matched?
PD: Honestly, I need to do a better job of cutting off the cage and not allowing him to move around as much- I need to corner him and not chase him. I did a poor job of cornering him, I chased him around. There’s a lot to be improved on- a lot.
Your friend and fellow Penn State alum Ed Ruth will also be competing on the card, as someone who came from a similar wrestling background, what advice would you give to guys like him, Tyrell Fortune, Jarod Trice, Logan Storley and the recent wave of wrestling standouts that Bellator has snapped up?
PD: It’s simple, just train, train, train as much as you can. Time goes so fast, as I’m sure these guys all know- they all wrestled in college and those four years fly by. I know a couple of those guys, they have good management and that’s a big part of the game, keeping good people around you to keep you on course through your career- so I think they’ll be alright.
I spoke with Darrion Caldwell recently and we were talking about these young wrestlers coming through and you could tell he was extremely passionate about their development- is there a strong wrestling fraternity at Bellator at the moment?
PD: Absolutely- wrestling has always been a fraternity and I think Bellator has made a home for those wrestlers and it will continue to be a home and a place with a good reputation amongst wrestlers. You’ve got Aaron Pico too, another great wrestling standout scooped up by Bellator and don’t be surprised if you see more high-caliber wrestlers going to Bellator.
It strikes me as similar to the fraternity the likes of Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson etc. enjoyed in the UFC’s early noughties, in a way.
PD: Oh yeah, it’s the same, absolutely.
You were at the brain-health study event with John McCain in Washington last year- has anything from that day changed your approach or mindset in terms of training or competing?
PD: You know, I’ve always been a guy who errs on the side of caution in training, and just taking ample rest after competition. Win, lose or draw, you need to have some downtime and allow your body to heal and that’s something I’ve always preached to everyone and something that’s reinforced whenever you’re talking about CTE and brain-damage.
If everything goes well next weekend, what’s next for Phil Davis? How far away are you from another title-shot, and will you have an eye on Bader’s fight with Linton Vassell in the main event on Friday?
PD: I don’t want to look past Leo, hopefully it [the title-shot] would be the next fight, but we’ll see. If you’re trying to set up a fight between me and Linton Vassell at Wembley, I’m in.
I’d have no complaints there, thanks for your time today Phil and best of luck for Friday.
PD: Thank you very much, cheers.
Phil Davis takes on Leo Leite at Bellator 186: Ryan Bader vs. Linton Vassell on Friday, November 3rd in Penn State, PA.