A cursory glance at the rematch shows two up-and-coming fighters vying to step over one another en route to title contention. While this assessment is not wrong, Davis has more at stake than simply moving closer to UFC gold.
Formerly considered a candidate to be MMA's next big thing, Davis tore into the UFC by reeling off five straight wins, extending his career mark to a perfect 9-0.
At that point, all was right in Davis' career. He looked like a legitimate threat to divisional deity Jon Jones, had the admiration of the MMA world and was on the precipice of breaking into the upper echelon.
The only obstacle between validation and himself was Rashad Evans—an obstacle that proved significant.
Evans put a halt to Davis' momentum, outclassing him on the feet for a full five rounds, even controlling the wrestling game, an area in which many analysts gave Davis an edge. Though he made it to a 25-minute decision, the contest featured almost no positives for Davis, who mounted no serious threat the entire time.
The result of his middling attempt to surpass Evans in the light heavyweight ranks was the loss of something greater than just a fight—Davis' appearance of being a contender turned from promise to facade.
The perception that Mr. Wonderful might overtake a fighter of Jon Jones' caliber dissipated in its entirety after the Evans fight, and was replaced by a widely held belief that he is too one-dimensional to strongly impact the title picture at 205.
Frustratingly, Davis' attempt to disprove this criticism was thwarted by an accidental eye poke, which cut short his follow-up bout with Wagner Prado, at just 1:28 of Round 1.
The worst part of No Contest was not so much the delay in Davis' re-ascent, but rather that the brief time he spent in the Octagon only fueled the conviction of critics, who watched an uncomfortable Davis struggle to keep pace with his opponent's strikes.
The culmination of his loss to Evans and lackluster, albeit brief, time in the cage with Prado, has led Davis to a career crossroads—he either comes out at UFC 153 looking underwhelming and substantiating claims that he is a second-tier fighter, or takes care of business and reasserts himself as a future title player.
Davis doesn't have to best Prado on the feet—no one can reasonably ask that of him—but he has to show that he is capable of nullifying his foe's attacks. Whether that means executing effective defensive standup, timing takedowns to interrupt onslaughts or mounting a formidable counteroffense, Davis must show he can either rectify or hide his striking inadequacies.
If Davis proves capable of handling Prado's striking, he can get to his own strengths—his wrestling and grappling—and use them to dictate the pace of the match. And if he can do that, he can win the fight.
But will winning be enough to regain contender status?
Beyond scoring a "W," Davis must control his UFC 153 match. He can't take punishment for the first three minutes of each round, then steal points by scoring takedowns.
No, that might be good enough for a win, but it certainly won't be good enough to make him a contender again.
To become a contender once again, Davis needs to show he can consistently nullify Prado's standup. He doesn't need to look like a world-class striker, he just needs to show that he knows how to use his skill set to protect his greatest weakness.
A 15-minute bout that sees Davis keeping his distance on the feet, shooting for takedowns, working for submissions and generally frustrating his opponent is what the former prospect needs to reanimate his lost image.
A first round submission win wouldn't be bad either, but in some cases, it's easier to disprove a perception methodically than with a singular bold statement.
This is one of those times.
A quick submission only recaps what we've seen from Mr. Wonderful. A lengthy showcase of new tricks shows growth, and growth is what noncontenders need to show to become contenders.