Once upon a time, there was a UFC fighter named Phil Davis, who tore onto the scene with pink tights and prospective excellence.
His inner circle knew him as “Mr. Wonderful,” but to the media and MMA fans, he was hardly anything but Mr. Invisible. Davis was cut from the same cloth of one of the rarest and toughest forms of athlete, an NCAA Division I wrestling champion.
In all sports, athletes are taught at an early age that winning is the ultimate measure of success. Keep your mouth closed, work hard and the world will be your oyster.
So Davis set out to be a UFC champion. Little did he know, the world of combat sports was also ravenous for magnified egos and personalities.
Davis quickly set himself apart as one of the more talented fighters in the light heavyweight division. His grappling-heavy style was an immediate turnoff for casual fans, but who could argue against wins over Alexander Gustafsson, Lyoto Machida and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira?
Unfortunately, winning wasn’t enough in Davis’ case.
He did suffer a minor hiccup in a decision loss to former UFC champ Rashad Evans, but considering the level of opposition, Davis’ stock remained relatively the same in the division. The only knock on Davis was a lack of personality and charisma. Despite being a multi-talented fighter, fans weren’t exactly jumping out of their seats to see him compete.
Davis sat idly by as other fighters quietly cut in front of his dream UFC title shot against Jon Jones.
Chael Sonnen, a middleweight contender coming off a loss, received a title shot before Davis. Despite losing to Davis, Gustafsson also slipped ahead to earn his crack at UFC gold. Glover Teixeira hadn’t even defeated a top-five light heavyweight. Yet, he still headlined over Davis in a title fight with Jones at UFC 172.
“I like Phil and I don’t want to throw Phil under the bus, but Phil needs to get over that mental hump,” UFC president Dana White told ESPN.com. “I’ve got guys breathing down my neck for fights, like, ‘I want this fight. I want that fight.’ Phil Davis is like, ‘Eh. I’ll hang out around No. 4 here.’ He’s not that guy that comes across to me like, ‘I f-----g want it. I want to be the best in the world.'”
Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, is one of the most polarizing figures in the entire National Football League. There isn’t anything particularly flashy about Brady’s mannerisms off the field, other than his supermodel wife and lavish lifestyle.
Seriously, look at this guy.
Brady’s only expectation is to be great at playing football. The opportunities he earned to win multiple championships weren’t created by manufactured drama.
But things are different in a sport dominated by pay-per-view.
Everyone wants to be loved and praised by fans, but the righteous path rarely leads to good ticket sales. Perhaps UFC women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey put it best when speaking with BloodyElbow.com.
“Cheers don’t pay for my gas,” Rousey said at a media luncheon.
With a less than aesthetically pleasing fighting style, Davis was basically pushed into stepping outside of himself and becoming a character. Leading up to UFC 172, the new Phil Davis was on display for the world to see. No longer would he idly sit while others cut in line on his opportunities:
[Jones is] the champ, and he needs to learn that I soon will be the champ,” Davis said during the UFC 172 media conference call, according to Bleacher Report’s Hunter Homistek.
So he should probably just either just give it to me, which would be the easiest thing, or he could fight me and he could give it to me that way. Probably the easier way would be to just give it up, just walk over here and say, ‘You know what? Honestly, I’m scared. I’m just going to give you the belt.’
After these comments, the backlash from fans was swift and merciless.
Davis was immediately labeled as public enemy No. 1 for creating unnecessary drama and attempting to talk his way into a title fight with Jones. The irony of the situation was that Davis was chastised for adopting the role media, fans and White wanted all along.
Needless to say, Davis’ trip down the road less traveled as a manufactured heel garnered plenty of attention. There were even murmurings of him possibly jumping to the forefront of the title picture with an impressive win over Anthony Johnson in the co-main event of UFC 172.
Mr. Invisible was finally received by the world as Mr. Wonderful.
Unfortunately for Davis, his campaign for a crack at Jones came to a decisive end after being soundly defeated by Johnson in a lopsided unanimous decision. The agony of defeat was magnified for Davis, who called out the lion just to fall to another predator in the jungle.
Weeks after the loss, Jones is still having fun at Davis’ expense on Twitter.
Sometimes, the path to MMA superstardom is winning coated in the glitz and glamour of professional wrestling. Everyone loves a good story chock-full of drama and emotion. MMA isn’t a team sport, which means fighters are forced to build their own brand.
As a fighter, your livelihood solely depends on winning and making people care about your brand. There are plenty of talented fighters all over the globe, but only a quarter of them will ever be discovered and make it to the big show. What can you do besides win to truly separate yourself from the rest of the pack? This is the question fighters face every day.
Davis took the road less traveled and fell flat on his face. Jones will likely continue to hurl jokes, while the rest of the MMA populace condemns him for his shift in personality. But the attention derived from the reigning UFC champ and the ire of fans still accomplishes the one goal Davis set out to achieve from the very beginning.
For the first time in his professional career, the MMA world is actually talking about Phil Davis.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.