Phil Davis has always been known as a quiet man.
He is someone who goes in the cage to fight but keeps a low profile outside of it. He has never done much trash talking. When I interviewed him last week, he stressed the importance of winning his fights above all else, even in a promotion that consistently values entertaining fighters over those who win but do so in less than exciting fashion.
“Nothing to me is more important than winning. And there are a lot of guys like this. There are a lot of guys who can go out and get a knockout 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent of the time, they’ll lose,” Davis said. “I’m not one of those guys. It’s great they can get a knockout. But more important than getting the knockout is getting the win.”
His mindset may be changing, however, after UFC President Dana White’s recent comments after the UFC on Fox post-fight press conference.
"He’s one of the best light heavyweights in the world. But he doesn’t come off to me like I’ve got guys (who are) breathing down my f-----g neck for fights. ‘I want this fight. I want this, I want that,'" White said.
Davis stressed that he is solely focused on Anthony Johnson, whom he’ll face on Saturday night at UFC 172. But that didn’t stop him from putting Jones in his cross hairs.
“He’s the most scared man in MMA. He ought to be on a small show with the way he runs from guys. I do think he is being careful and protecting his business interests. I just wish he would go about it like a professional, instead of like a teenage girl,” Davis told Bleacher Report. “It comes down to this: The fans of the UFC deserve better. They truly deserve better. They tune into Glee when they want to see some high school drama. When they tune into the UFC, they deserve to see a man fighting. Or a Ronda Rousey, or whatever. But the high school drama should stay on Glee.”
His ire toward Jones is surprising when you consider that Davis is typically polite and reserved. I asked Davis if there were any incidents in the past that have caused him to lash out at Jones.
“What type of history could Jon Jones and I have? There could be no history between a man who is serious about what he does and a guy like Jon Jones,” Davis said.
If Davis beats Johnson—and he is heavily favored by oddsmakers to do exactly that—he’ll be within shouting distance of a fight with Jones that he very much wants.
It is Johnson’s first fight in the UFC since being cut in 2012 for repeatedly failing to make weight at both welterweight and middleweight. He is now a light heavyweight and has wreaked havoc on opponents on the independent circuit and in World Series of Fighting while amassing an undefeated record in the weight class.
Davis is not familiar with Johnson’s work outside the UFC.
“It’s not a knock on him at all. I follow my friends outside the UFC. I follow my teammates outside the UFC. But I don’t follow a whole lot of MMA outside the UFC,” he said. “But having said that, the guy was a pretty good fighter in the UFC. He beat the crap out of some guys. If he’s a tough guy in the UFC, of course he’s going to beat guys outside the UFC.”
Davis was an extraordinary collegiate wrestler for Penn State. He was a four-time All-American and won an NCAA title. Johnson was a junior college wrestling champion. Davis said the difference between their respective wrestling backgrounds will be a large gulf for Johnson to overcome.
“You have to understand, the circles I run in as far as wrestling goes, the name Anthony Johnson doesn’t come up very often,” Davis said. “When we talk about wrestling, the name Johnson does not come up in conversation. So if he did wrestle, I don’t know where and I don’t know how good he was.
“Here’s the thing. If a guy is pretty good in the XFL, what does that mean to a guy in the NFL? I say that with all seriousness,” he said. “I am not trying to be condescending. Division I is Division I. Anything else is not D-I. Junior college is not even D-II.”
And so Davis will step in the cage on Saturday with plenty on the line. A win over Johnson won’t earn him an immediate title shot. That honor will go to Alexander Gustafsson, his teammate.
But as Davis noted, a win is a win. It is quite simple: If he keeps winning, he can’t be denied. He’ll eventually get the title shot. And he’ll go the extra mile, too.
White says Davis doesn’t blow up his phone asking for fights? He’ll start calling the boss on a daily basis. He’ll use his post-fight interview time to call out opponents and say wild and crazy things about Jones in the hopes that it’ll put him one step closer to the championship. Because winning is important, and Davis plans to continue winning. But it may not be enough to just win fights. He may have to start calling people out and telling White exactly what he wants.
Judging by his recent demeanor, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.