Phil Davis wants to make a statement in Brazil. | File Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Phil Davis can sense the magnitude of this opportunity.
The man they call “Mr. Wonderful” will meet former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight kingpin Lyoto Machida in the UFC 163 co-main event this Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A win, particularly a decisive one, over a fighter widely acknowledged as the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds could thrust Davis into position to challenge for divisional gold.
“I don’t know where I fit in the title contention picture,” he said during a pre-fight media call. “I just go fight by fight. I really wanted to get a finish in my last fight. If I get a finish here, it will get me a lot further along than a loss or a [decision] win will.”
Davis failed in his only previous attempt to bring down a former champion, as he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Rashad Evans at UFC on Fox 2 in January 2012. The 28-year-old Alliance MMA product still views the setback as an invaluable part of the learning curve.
“From the Rashad fight, I know what not to do,” Davis said. “I didn’t get beat up back then, and that’s always good. Not getting beat up is a big part of the game.”
Still, Davis understands past experience will only get him so far against the unorthodox Machida. “The Dragon” knocked out Evans to capture the light heavyweight championship at UFC 98 in May 2009.
“They’re two completely different fighters,” Davis said. “They don’t act alike, they don’t fight alike [and] they don’t look alike. I just need to do what I do and wrap him up.”
Solving the Machida riddle will be no easy task. The 35-year-old karateka has for years confounded foes with his elusive style. Machida will enter the cage on the strength of consecutive victories over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader and onetime two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson. Wins over six former UFC champions -- Evans, Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn, Tito Ortiz, Mauricio Rua and Randy Couture -- buoy his resume.
“I brought in a couple people to get a feel for what he does, but no one can really do what he does,” Davis said. “He does it better than anybody. He has a really good certain set of skills. I don’t necessarily have to find a guy like him in order to win. I just have to be on my game and extremely good at what I do.”
The once-beaten Davis was a four-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Penn State University, where he won a national title in 2008. He has compiled a 7-1 mark since arriving in the UFC three years ago, including wins over Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Confidence comes naturally for the Harrisburg, Pa., native, even when faced with an obstacle like Machida.
“After this fight,” he said, “people will be begging for me to get a title shot.”
Thales Leites will step inside the Octagon for the first time in four years when he confronts former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion Tom Watson in a middleweight showcase.
A 32-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Leites has compiled a 6-1 record since being released by the UFC following a controversial split decision defeat to American Top Team’s Alessio Sakara in August 2009. He last appeared in March, when he submitted onetime International Fight League titleholder Matt Horwich with a second-round arm-triangle choke under the Amazon Forest Combat banner in Brazil. Leites fought Anderson Silva for the middleweight championship at UFC 97, losing a unanimous decision.
Watson has won 12 of his past 14 bouts. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative notched his first Ultimate Fighting Championship victory at UFC on Fuel TV 7 in February, when he put away Stanislav Nedkov with a knee to the body and follow-up punches at Wembley Arena in London.
“Watson is a great fighter, very dangerous with many skills,” Leites said in his pre-fight interview with UFC.com. “He likes to fight aggressively with his strikes and kicks.”
This & That
UFC 163 “Aldo vs. Korean Zombie” will mark the 242nd event in Ultimate Fighting Championship history and the ninth to be held in Brazil ... Featherweight champion Jose Aldo has not lost in 2,807 days ... “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” alum Thiago Santos was a paratrooper in the Brazilian army before he pursued a career in mixed martial arts ... Renovacao Fight Team’s Jose Maria Tome will enter his promotional debut sporting 19 first-round finishes among his 33 professional victories ... A former M-1 Global champion and finalist on Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Vinny Magalhaes is a three-time medalist at the prestigious Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships ... In more than a decade as a professional mixed martial artist, Ian McCall has never lost three fights in a row ... When Neil Magny was born on Aug. 3, 1987, Bob Seger’s “Shakedown,” U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Heart’s “Alone,” George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” and Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” were the top five song’s on Billboard’s “Hot 100” list ... Sheila Gaff trains in Aschaffenburg, Germany, nearly 6,000 miles from the HSBC Arena ... Bristol Marunde is a native of Fairbanks, Alaska, where sub-zero temperatures have been recorded in eight out of the 12 months of the year ... Constrictor Team’s Rani Yahya has delivered 15 submissions in his career, 13 of them by some form of choke ... Fourteen of Francimar Barroso’s 18 bouts have ended inside one round.