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Through pivotal wins and disheartening setbacks, Phil Davis has always stayed the course when it comes to his training. When he defeated Liam McGeary nearly three years ago, he saw no reason to change. When he was upset by Vadim Nemkov in November, change was again not the answer. Being strong in his fundamentals stands out as one of the greatest lessons Davis has learned during his 11-year career.
“Mr. Wonderful” plans to put those fundamentals to use once more at Bellator 220 on Saturday, as he rematches McGeary at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. It marks Davis’ first appearance since he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against Nemkov a little more than five months ago. Losing a fight many expected him to win could have forced the Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran to reevaluate his training sessions or consider a change in scenery. Davis sees no need for such drastic measures, as he does not believe the pastures are any greener outside of his longtime team at Alliance MMA.
“The more you move around, you just get out of certain habits that you like, that you’ve had a lot of success with,” he told Sherdog.com, “and you’re just not reinforcing your fundamental techniques.”
Davis still has a tremendous amount of trust in head coach Eric Delfierro -- a man he considers a student of the game.
“He’s constantly learning, and we’re always trying new techniques,” Davis said. “[For] a lot of them, we’ll say, ‘That’s awesome.’ Sometimes we tried it, didn’t like it and we just keep it moving. That’s what it’s about.”
Davis feels that when a fighter believes he has found the right coach and system, the negatives associated with a potential move far outweigh the positives. He compares it to coaching systems in team sports. Moving from system to system may stunt the potential of a fighter, as different coaches may look to assimilate an athlete into their preferred techniques. However, when a fighter stays in a system that fits, he can flourish while reinforcing the fundamentals that take him from good to great. Davis sees Delfierro as the right man for the job.
“I think that’s the difference between good guys and really good guys,” he said. “Good guys just do stuff and it turns out [well] for them, but really good guys have positions and they try to steer [the fight] to positions that they’re great at.”
The loss to Nemkov and his Bellator 163 win over McGeary only strengthened this theory in his mind, because fundamentals were pivotal in both bouts. In his loss to Nemkov, Davis had the right techniques but failed to execute them like he knows he can. In the victory over McGeary, he executed his fundamentals flawlessly on his way to a unanimous decision and capturing the Bellator MMA light heavyweight championship. When asked if new wrinkles being added to the rematch strategy for McGeary was warranted, Davis did not feel as though it was necessary. Making sure he maintained the staples of his successful plan the first time was the priority, and any additions would be from a natural progression he has made in the time since their first encounter.
“You can very quickly overthink what’s going to happen,” Davis said. “It’s tempting to want to try something different, but for me, now’s the time to remain constant at doing what works and let him worry about changing. He’s the one that needs to make up the difference to get the victory. I have to remember that this guy for 25 minutes of a 25-minute fight had to throw his whole game plan out the window, everything.”
Considering his credentials, Davis figures to be in contention for the Bellator light heavyweight title for the foreseeable future, especially with Muhammed Lawal in a tailspin and former No. 1 contender Linton Vassell now competing at heavyweight. The 205-pound championship has not been defended in more than a year, with current titleholder Ryan Bader having been sidetracked by his participation in the Bellator heavyweight grand prix -- a tournament he ultimately won. Davis believes Bader has responsibilities to which he needs to tend as champion: “I do think you’ve got to be able to defend those bad boys.”
However, Davis does understand if he is not the first choice to face Bader in his next bout as a light heavyweight, as “Darth” was the man who took the title from him in 2017. He would not take issue if the opportunity were awarded to recent Bellator signee Lyoto Machida, assuming “The Dragon” gets past Chael Sonnen in June.
“I wouldn’t mind that fight: Machida vs. Bader,” Davis said. “The thing is, [the champion has] got to be defending the belt and [he has] got to be active.”