The first meeting between Phil Davis and Ryan Bader was a closely contested bout that could have gone either way, but “Mr. Wonderful” doesn’t plan on leaving anything to chance in their rematch.
The light heavyweights initially squared off at UFC on Fox 14 in January 2015, with Bader edging Davis via split decision. Meanwhile, media scorecards tracked by MMADecisions.com were nearly split as well, as seven favored Bader, five saw the fight for Davis and one scored the contest a draw.
They will meet again in the Bellator 180 featured bout on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, with Davis defending his 205-pound belt against the Power MMA Team product. The Bellator 180 main card airs on Spike at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, just prior to the promotion’s pay-per-view offering at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
“It’s all about getting that ‘W,’” Davis recently told Sherdog.com. “He got the first one. He’s not gonna have a leg to stand on in the second fight. I’m gonna beat him so bad there won’t be a need for a third fight.”
In their first meeting, Bader, a two-time All-American wrestler at Arizona State University, defended all nine of the takedowns attempted by Davis, a four-time All-American at Penn State University. Davis said attempting to use his wrestling in MMA against an opponent with a similar background can be challenging.
“Wrestling, sometimes you go to it because it’s a comfortable place and nobody else can do it. Sometimes you want to wait for the perfect shot on a guy who’s also a high-level wrestler,” Davis said. “You want to wait for the right setup, you want to catch him and out of position and you want to take him straight down. Guys who don’t know how to wrestle, it really doesn’t require the same setups. You can get away with a lot more with a guy who doesn’t know wrestling. That’s kind of how that works.”
Bader exited the UFC as a free agent with victories in seven of his last eight Octagon appearances. Davis, who has won four in a row with Bellator since the first loss to Bader, believes his opponent has gotten better but still has one significant weakness.
“He’s definitely improved,” Davis said. “I still feel like when he gets in there and he’s in there with someone who’s just as good as him, he’s the one that folds first.”
Both Davis and Bader are two of the most significant additions to the Bellator roster in recent years, and they have infused the promotion’s light heavyweight division with some much-needed life. When Davis looks around, he sees an organization on the rise.
“At the top, the [Bellator] light heavyweight division is super close. I think I’m the best in the world, but also Ryan Bader is top in the world as well. It’s that way with a lot of the champions,” Davis said. “And the guys at 155 are tough. I don’t even know what’s going on at 170, there’s so many tough guys. In Bellator or anywhere else we have some of the best talent in the world. Not just in Bellator, but in the entire world.”
That said, the light heavyweight division appears to be lacking depth. After Bader, Davis could have a rematch with Muhammed Lawal looming, but pickings appear to be slim beyond that bout. Nonetheless, Davis believes that plenty of challenges await should he take care of business against Bader at Bellator 180.
“Definitely. There’s a couple more guys I need to beat,” he said. “But also as time goes on, more and more people will want to come to Bellator. And they will. Bellator just made some awesome signings, and I can’t wait to see them fight throughout this next year.”