Phil ‘Mr Wonderful’ Davis is one of the most promising up and comers in the UFC’s light-heavyweight division at this moment in time.
In many respects the 26 year-old’s career so far has been similar to another 205lb prodigy, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, coming from a strong wrestling background, and then being brought into the UFC after just a few professional fights.
Like Jones, Davis has been working his way up the ranks, and impressing along the way by piecing together four wins in the Octagon in 2010, taking out solid opposition like Brian Stann and Tim Boetsch along the way.
Now Davis is about to be thrust into the limelight a little earlier than anticipated, stepping in at short notice to replace Tito Ortiz against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the main event of UFC Fight Night 24 later this month.
With that in mind we thought now would be a good time to go back and check out Davis’ first fights in the sport prior to joining the UFC.
June 2008: Phil Davis Vs Kevin Wall (Amateur bout)
Coming from a decorated wrestling background, winning the NCAA Championship in 2008 and a four-time All-American, Davis had an excellent base for MMA from the word go, but he didn’t turn pro immediately. Instead he fought in three amateur bouts, the first of which can be watched below.
Davis was taking on Kevin Wall, a fighter with an 0-1 amateur record at the time, and luckily footage exists of the bout which handed him his first win in decisive fashion, and the fact that he didn’t have to delve deep into his wrestling bag of tricks was an early indication that Davis was set to make a successful transition into mixed martial arts.
October 2008: Phil Davis Vs Brett Chism (Pro Debut)
After going 3-0 as an amateur it was time for Davis to undertake his first professional bout in October of ’08.
There was to be no easy gentle introduction for him though, with his first opponent Brett Chism wielding a solid 8-2 record at the time (though in the years since he’s dropped to 11-10).
Watch Davis full pro-debut below.
So, no quick finish on this occasion, but the results was never in doubt. At this early stage in his career it was clear his takedown’s still needed some adjustments for MMA competition, but once on the mat he was in complete control and as a result claimed a dominant decision win.
January 2009: Phil Davis Vs Josh Green
Three months later Davis was back in action at PFC 12 in California taking on Josh Green.
Unlike his last fight, this time Davis was fighting a man with even less experience than himself, with Green making his professional debut that evening (he now holds a 1-4 record).
Unfortunately there’s no video footage of this one, but what we do know is that Davis made short work of Davis, taking him down, securing full mount and TKO’ing him with ground and pound just 1.49mins into the bout.
April 2009: Phil Davis Vs Terry Cohens
Fast-forward another three months on, and Fairfax, Virginia was the location for his third fight against Terry Cohens at UWC 6.
Cohens was 4-2 at the time, though he’s since slumped to 4-6. With no real ground game to speak of, Cohens was like a lamb to slaughter here. Davis took him down early and showed good positional control and effective ground and pound over the course of the opening round, allowing him to claim a TKO win with just 30 seconds of the round remaining.
It’s not possible to embed the fight video, but you can check it out by clicking on the link below. Be sure to come back though when you’re finished watching as we’ve still got one more fight to show you.
June 2009: Phil Davis Vs David Baggett
June of ’09 saw Davis looking to go 4-0 against David Baggett in Pittsburgh who was 5-2 at the time (6-6 at the time of writing).
This fight played out in similar fashion to his previous fight, with Davis taking him down early and beating him up with ground and pound. Taking Baggett’s back and flattening him out, it was only matter of time before he sunk in the rear-naked choke.
This would be Davis’ last fight in the regional circuit as In December of 2009 he signed with the UFC where he has continued to develop his skills, with notable improvements to both his striking and submissions when compared to these early encounters, taking his pro-record to 8-0 along the way.
So how far can Davis go in the UFC’s 205lb division?
Firstly it’s worth keeping in mind that he’s only been fighting professionally for less than two and a half years, so we’ve still not yet seen the best of ‘Mr Wonderful.’ The fact that he’s come so far in such a short period of time gives an indication of his potential though.
His wrestling is second to none at light-heavyweight, displaying almost effortless position control and a rock solid base, yet he stays active on top rather than just looking to stifle his opponents. In his UFC outings to date he’s also shown signs of a developing BJJ game, notching up two submissions via anaconda choke and a modified kimura which has helped to strengthen his ground game even further.
Meanwhile his striking is still a work in progress, though a reach measuring an impressive 79 inches certainly helps. He’s not yet developed into a particularly devastating or fluid striker, but he is becoming a little more comfortable on his feet, and as in his early fights he still likes to mix things up a little with kicks as well as punches. At this stage it’s certainly the aspect of his game that still requires the most work.
Personally I feel the Nogueira fight is coming a little early in his development – this is a big and rather sudden step-up in competition compared to his last opponent Tim Boetsch, and I don’t fancy his chances much if the fight stays standing. Having said that, with his wrestling ability he certainly has a chance to emerge victorious, though his submission defense will undoubtedly be put to the test.
The fight will be a real yardstick for just how far he’s come and how far he’s still to go. If he can overcome the vastly more experienced Brazilian then the sky’s the limit for the charismatic Davis, though I still believe that Jon Jones is still the most talented emerging force at 205lbs.