Featured on Saturday's UFC 159 fight card was a light heavyweight grudge match between one of the division's top-ranked fighters and an opponent sitting firmly outside the top 10.
No, I'm not talking about Chael Sonnen versus Jon Jones. I'm talking about the other UFC 159 light heavyweight mismatch, Phil Davis versus Vinnay Magalhaes.
Their fight began with Davis looking to stick-and-move, something that became a theme throughout the larger contest. Magalhaes, meanwhile, attempted to implement leg and body kicks to slow his opponent.
Davis was by far the more active fighter early, throwing 98 strikes in the first round to Magalhaes' 63. He was also the more accurate striker, landing 33 shots to his opponent's 12.
In response to the striking going Davis' way, Magalhaes decided enough was enough and shot for a takedown late in the first frame. Surprisingly, he got it, bringing Davis into his world, putting him in great peril and readying to finish the fight.
Only, Davis simply stood up, then calmly resumed the striking clinic until the round ended.
Round 2 was essentially a continuation of Round 1, with Davis circling and outpointing his foe. He made his focus a basic one-two combo and stuck with it from there.
The jab-cross technique isn't the most thrilling to behold, but Davis kept at it and Magalhaes had no answer. The Brazilian landed the occasional punch of his own and hit with a few solid low kicks, but whenever Davis moved in to strike, he simply covered up and absorbed.
Magalhaes' only real significant offensive initiative in the second was a takedown attempt that Davis easily shook off.
The quicker and more athletic Davis kept at it in the third, though he opened up a bit more by the middle of the round, mixing in some overhand punches and hooks to the body with his arsenal of straight, crisp shots.
Magalhaes responded by looking for a few fight-saving haymakers and head kicks, but little about his output ever really threatened Davis. His final takedown attempt was more an expression of exhaustion than a legitimate offensive maneuver, with Vinny diving forward at Davis' knees, failing miserably and essentially conceding the outcome.
From there, it was just more of the same, and Davis eventually cruised to an easy decision victory. One judge gave Magalhaes a round, but I can only assume it was out of pity. Either pity or absolute incompetence.
Even Magalhaes acknowledges that:
Davis was able to make it a one-sided affair for two reasons.
One of the questions surrounding the match was whether or not Davis would use his wrestling to take Magalhaes down. The bold move on Davis' part would have been to do it and attempt to prove he was capable of handling a jiu-jitsu master like Magalhaes on the ground. The cautious alternative was to avoid the mat, and that's the route he chose.
The other question was, between two fighters whose primary skills lie elsewhere, who would have the striking edge. Davis answered that riddle by keeping it simple, sacrificing flash and potentially devastating connections for a consistent barrage of straight punches. Again, not the bold or exhilarating option, but the right one.
So while Davis fought a safe fight, he also fought a very intelligent one. There is always the danger of a combatant looking to make a statement against a foe he dislikes, but "Mr. Wonderful" kept his cool, targeting victory over harming Magalhaes.
Maybe he would have won either way, but he approached the fight smartly. And though scoring a crushing knockout or out-dueling Magalhaes on the mat would have made a grander statement, the intelligence Davis displayed ultimately asserts him as even more dangerous in the long run.