Anthony Johnson returns to the UFC Octagon for a marquee battle with Phil Davis, who's seemed far more interested in champion Jon Jones than his UFC 172 opponent. It's created an interesting dynamic ahead of the key light heavyweight encounter.
The fighters bring vastly different approaches to the contest. Johnson is a powerful knockout specialist who was dominant after leaving UFC following a loss to Vitor Belfort in 2012. Davis is the more well-rounded fighter and is coming off a win over Lyoto Machida.
Trash talking ahead of a fight is always good. It adds a little extra spice to a particular matchup and helps build a little extra mainstream hype, which is exactly what UFC needs as it continues its efforts to make a more widespread impact in the sports world.
It's been a little different in this case, though. Instead of Davis taking shots at Johnson, he's spent most of his time feuding with Jon Jones, who's set to defend his Light Heavyweight Championship in the main event against Glover Teixeira.
Marc Raimondi of Fox Sports passed along comments from "Mr. Wonderful" in which he took direct aim at Jones and talked about taking the title:
He needs to learn that I will soon be the champ, so he probably should either just give it to me, which would be the easiest thing, or just fight me and he can give it to me that way. But probably the easier way would be to just give it up. Walk over here and give me the belt and say, 'You know what Phil? Honestly I'm scared. I'm just going to give you the belt.' That's the easiest way to go about it.
If the two were fighting each other, it would make for great entertainment. Given the fact Davis is preparing to fight Johnson, however, it's a bit weird. And it raises questions about whether he's totally focused on a bout he needs to win to have any chance at Jones.
At the very least, the lack of attention from Davis should serve as a motivating factor for Johnson. Adam LeBarr of FightersBlog noted it would be even more awkward if Johnson wins the fight:
Fun #UFC172 pre-fight conference call today. Would be funny if Anthony Johnson dominates Phil Davis after his trash talk.— Adam LeBarr (@thefightersblog) April 22, 2014
Ultimately, this is a fight that comes down to which fighter is able to implement his style on the fight.
Johnson wants to force an up-tempo battle that will wear down Davis and open up more opportunities for him to utilize that knockout power. Davis wants to slow things down, allow his defensive ability to limit Johnson's chances and counterattack to outscore him.
Davis is probably feeling confident because he's coming off a win over Machida, who's also known for his striking ability and is more accomplished than Johnson. But that was a controversial decision, and a similar performance on Saturday night wouldn't guarantee victory.
The key for Johnson is getting off to a quick start. He must come out firing on all cylinders, forcing Davis to defend and preventing him from finding a comfort zone. If he can gain control early, it will force the Pennsylvania native to alter his approach.
Who's your pick in the undercard bout?
That said, Davis is the better overall fighter and seems to have developed some added confidence following the Machida victory, controversial decision or not.
He should be able to limit Johnson's use of his power enough to make sure "Rumble" doesn't enjoy a successful return to the Octagon. It should be close, but Davis edges out the win in the end.
Prediction: Davis by unanimous decision