Sherdog Prospect Watch: Phil Davis

May 31, 2009
The globalization of mixed martial arts and its frenetic pace makes for easy parallels between the sport and society. Phil Davis has trouble with the pace, though not in the way one might think.

The most difficult part of the four-time collegiate All-American wrestler’s transition to MMA has been the wait.

“In wrestling, you wrestle every week, twice a week,” says Davis, who starred at Penn State University. “In MMA, you fight like every three months.”

Splitting time between Lionheart MMA in Pennsylvania and Brandon Vera’s Alliance Training Center and Lloyd Irvin’s Martial Arts Academy in San Diego, Davis has had his hands in the sport since April 2008 -- the same year the Harrisburg, Pa., native captured the NCAA national championship at 197 pounds. A desire to remain competitive pushed Davis into MMA -- he followed a career path similar to other decorated amateur wrestlers -- but the light heavyweight fighter claims he became involved with the sport in “the way others get in to it.” Somebody dared him to fight.

“I don’t like to lose. You can’t dare me to do anything stupid because I’ll do it,” the 24-year-old says. “I mean, mixed martial arts looked like some fun.”

His throw-caution-to-the-wind approach seems indicative of his youth, as does his casual attitude. What does he bring to the MMA world?

“Other than the obvious national title,” Davis says, “I think what separates me is, you know, a lot of guys, they train mixed martial arts, but they don’t train full time.”


Phil Davis vs. Terry Cohens at UWC 6.
Davis has carried his commitment to training from Penn State to the jiu-jitsu mats and boxing canvases of various gyms. He knows he can go three times a day without breaking, mentally or physically. At Penn State, where Davis was often the best competitor in the room, he could lose but rarely did.

“It’s not the case anymore when I’m in the gym,” Davis says. “I just gotta remember to stay hungry when I get discouraged.”

Davis claims staying busy, along with his hunger and confidence in his abilities, is key to his progress. A forward thinker, he fills his mind with positive affirmations. No one can beat him, he tells himself, because his will dictates victory. He has taken to learning the submission game like a natural, though he approaches it with a bit of indifference.

“You gotta learn it,” he says.

Davis (3-0) describes his journey into MMA through the different names and different places he has come across. Sometimes, he can barely remember who holds his pads. Perfect through three professional bouts, Davis has become known for the raw power in his strikes.

“There’s some times when I hit somebody real good,” Davis says, “but that doesn’t really count; it’s practice.”

His nickname, “Mr. Wonderful,” serves as a prime example of the Davis paradox -- fun-loving kid outside the cage, tenacious will-breaker inside it.

“I got my nickname the way most people do; somebody else gave it to me,” Davis says. “Ah, you know, they said I’m wonderful, and I agreed with ’em.”

Deep down, he’s still a shy kid learning to come out of his shell. Davis is aware the nickname belongs to professional wrestling legend Paul Orndorff. Since Orndorff has retired, Davis thinks he “should hand down the wonderful name to another wonderful guy.”

A jovial tone does not make Davis any less dangerous. In fact, he has had trouble finding opponents in his young career. The notion that men with 11-1 records would dodge a green fighter like Davis seems absurd. What’s more, he has to contend with the jitters of adapting to a new sport.

Grapplers entering MMA are often questioned about their ability to take a punch and whether or not they fear being hit. Davis has a different fear.

“I’m scared that somebody’s gonna know how to slam me,” he says.

Davis compares himself to Muhammed Lawal -- an athletic martial artist with daunting wrestling credentials who’s just beginning his transition to MMA. Like “King Mo,” Davis seems in no rush to hit the big leagues.

“Somebody told me once, ‘Why be in the UFC until you’re ready to win it?’” Davis says, beginning to elongate his words with uncertainty. “I don’t know if I’m gonna take on Rashad [Evans] tomorrow.”

While he does not want to fight elite light heavyweights in the UFC yet, Davis does have dreams. First, he has to work out the kinks, apply his outstanding wrestling to MMA, learn striking and submissions, adapt to the fence and, yes, acclimate to a different competition schedule. Davis asserts his unorthodox wrestling style is well suited for MMA; he’s learning the fundamentals well enough to execute backward and forward, “the way you wanna do it.”

Though his wrestling career remains in the rearview mirror, Davis has established something of a following.

“My Penn State fans -- they’ll follow me,” the undefeated prospect says. “They’ll smack you if you say something about Phil Davis.”

To that end, Davis wants to someday return to the campus where he made his name.

“It’d be great to fight in the Bryce Jordan Center [at Penn State],” he says before correcting himself, “main event in the Bryce Jordan Center.”

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