There aren't too many Light Heavyweight mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters on Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster who have shown the promise of Phil Davis, who is known for his impressive wrestling background and evolving all-around skills since his transition to the sport in 2008.
Since his professional career began, Davis has faced increasingly difficult opposition, and, more often than not, he has been successful. His toughest challenge to date came in the UFC on Fox 2 main event, during which he collided with former 205-pound champion and long-time veteran, Rashad Evans. Davis was thoroughly beaten in all areas of the bout en route to a unanimous decision, highlighting that "Mr. Wonderful" had holes in his game and had considerable room for improvement.
Unfortunately, because of back-to-back bouts with Wagner Prado, as well as inactivity, Davis has not had the opportunity to demonstrate that he's fixed them. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
With wins over fighters like Alexander Gustafsson, Brian Stann, Tim Boetsch and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, among others, one would expect Davis to be at least somewhat defensively sound when striking, but he has proven to be anything but. In his most recent two bouts with the aforementioned Prado, Davis showed that he can not defend well against strikes despite facing a severely overmatched opponent.
Against Vinny Magalhaes, who Davis will fight later tonight (Sat., April 27, 2013) at UFC 159 from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., there may be reason to believe this won't be a problem for Davis, but the stylistic clash of these two men -- wrestling vs. Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- may mean Davis will have to strike with "Pezao" for prolonged periods of time.
Magalhaes may not be the best defensive wrestler in the division, and against a mat rat as talented as Davis it might not matter who it is, but when the fight hits the floor he more than makes up for it with his supremely dangerous submission attack. Davis' main focus tends to be wrestling, but against Magalhaes, that may be a route too dangerous to take.
Therefore, this fight may be one where Davis has to face one of his biggest deficiencies -- his striking defense. Magalhaes is more than competent in this department, and while his ground game is his namesake, he will definitely challenge Davis on the feet in a way only few can.
For Davis to climb his way back into the divisional title talk, he is going to have to face his biggest deficiency head on. Magalhaes will most likely challenge him similar to Evans, an accomplished wrestler in his own right, daring him to strike and eliminating wrestling as his Plan B because the ground is a dangerous place to be against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 8 runner up.
Ultimately, Davis will have to show major improvements in his striking, both defensively and offensively, to comfortably register an important win at UFC 159. As a former title hopeful, a loss to Magalhaes -- who branded Davis the easiest win within the Top 10 -- would significantly damage his short- and long-term title contender aspirations.
Something that seemed so certain just two years ago.
If Davis does decide to resort to his wrestling, it obviously not be a walk in the park because Magalhaes is a decorated jiu-jitsu world champion who boasts eight submission wins in his MMA career. In other words, no matter where the fight takes place, Davis will be challenged and in danger, making this one of the most dangerous and significant fights in his career to date.
Davis is the UFC 159 "Fighter to Watch" tonight because he may have the means to again become a top light heavyweight fighter, but, at 28 years old, his window is small and closing fast. He may not have much more time at the top level of the sport, so he'll need to show big improvements if he is to come out on top.
And stay there in 2013 and beyond.