Phil Davis will step inside the Octagon for the 11th time on Saturday at UFC 172, and it will be his most important fight as a professional fighter. He is in desperate need of a victory if he hopes to stay a credible challenger for the UFC's light heavyweight strap.
The Penn State graduate began his professional career 4-0. That led to the UFC inking him to a contract. He would make his debut against former WEC light heavyweight champion Brian Stann at UFC 109. Davis burst onto the scene with a dominant decision win.
After his Octagon debut, he reeled off four more victories. His streak involved quality opposition such as Alexander Gustafsson, now the No. 1-ranked contender and Davis' training partner, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Some might argue that those are signature wins, but if they are, why have the majority of fans forgotten about Davis?
UFC hand shakes vol #1 https://t.co/qgHY3S77Hy— Phil Davis (@PhilMrWonderful) April 22, 2014
When they fought, Gustafsson was an unknown prospect just like Davis. They were blooming prospects and are completely different fighters today. That cannot count as a signature win.
A Submission of the Night at UFC 123 against Tim Boetsch kept Davis rising through the ranks, but it wasn't the prime-time performance that makes a star. And his win over Nogueira was so lackluster that it had fans reaching to turn off the television instead of calling others to turn it on to watch the next big thing.
The current No. 4-ranked light heavyweight has charisma. He is a jovial character that the UFC has pushed on its programming. He has been an analyst on weigh-in and pre-fight shows. The company has attempted to elevate him, but it still has not truly worked.
Signature wins get you noticed. Davis is still under the radar.
“Mr. Wonderful” had a chance to secure that signature win in January 2012 in a title eliminator against Rashad Evans. His wrestling pedigree should have solidified him as the better pure grappler in the matchup, but MMA grappling is a different ballgame. And Evans showed that to him.
Davis dropped a unanimous decision to the former UFC light heavyweight champion. Suddenly, he found himself against the likes of Wagner Prado and Vinny Magalhaes. After defeating those two, he got another shot against a top-tier competitor.
Last August was the last time we had the chance to see Davis. He battled Lyoto Machida to a decision. He got the nod, but it wasn't the signature win he was hoping for. Instead, it was a contentious decision that left many shaking their heads.
At UFC 172, Davis gets the co-main event slot underneath the champion of the division. This is his chance to go into the cage and throw his name into the discussion of who deserves the next title shot.
His resume is just as impressive, if not more so, than any other contender's.
|Lyoto Machida||Win||Decision||UFC 163|
|Vinny Magalhaes||Win||Decision||UFC 159|
|Wagner Prado||Win||Submission||UFC 153|
|Wagner Prado||No Contest||Eye Poke||UFC on Fox 4|
|Rashad Evans||Loss||Decision||UFC on Fox 2|
|Antonio Rogerio Nogueira||Win||Decision||UFC Fight Night 24|
|Tim Boetsch||Win||Submission||UFC 123|
|Rodney Wallace||Win||Decision||UFC 117|
|Alexander Gustafsson||Win||Submission||UFC 112|
|Brian Stann||Win||Decision||UFC 109|
He needs to put on a show in front of the Baltimore crowd. A wrestling-filled decision will not get it done. If he can outclass Anthony Johnson, Davis may earn the signature win he needs to get fan support for a title shot that others, Glover Teixeira included, have jumped over him to get.
It has a been a slow, methodical journey up the rankings for Davis: a hot start cooled by a future UFC Hall of Famer, big yet forgotten wins and a gradual return to a premier slot on a big fight card.
The UFC has put him in a position for fans to remember his name. Now, Davis has to step up and give them a reason to.