Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis boasts an unbeaten MMA record of 9-0 (5-0 UFC) and with victories over numerous contenders already on his resume, likely ranks only behind Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans as a UFC Light Heavyweight title contender.
A four-time NCAA Division I All-American at Penn State, Davis won the NCAA Division I title (197 lbs) in 2008 and the No Gi Grappling World Jiu-Jitsu Championship (221 lbs super heavyweight division) as a blue-belt.
Since joining the UFC, he has only added to his grappling credentials with victories over Alexander Gustafsson via anaconda choke at UFC 112 and Tim Boetsch via a modified version of kimura at UFC 123. The latter submission won the UFC 123 Submission of the Night bonus and received acclaim all over the MMA community, announcing Davis as one of the top young hungry lions of the UFC.
The unanimous decision win over "Lil Nog" Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 24 was his first over a Top 10 guy in the division. Set to face Evans at UFC 133 and Lyoto Machida at UFC 140, Davis had to pull out of both fights due to a knee injury from which he is close to returning to full fitness. There is a rumor doing the rounds that when Evans himself returns from a thumb injury—which kept him out of the UFC 140 clash with current champion Jon Jones—he could face Davis.
Asked in a recent interview about a possible fight with Evans, Davis said:
"That may be a fight that makes sense. He's still a top five guy, definitely one of the best guys in the world, we'll see what happens. If that fight gets made, that's still pretty cool. I'd like that. I personally don't know or care, because the great thing about me is you can give me somebody in the top five, or the top ten, or you can give me somebody not in the top ten, and I'm still confident that I'm going to win regardless."
Davis will need all that confidence and more if he is to get past Evans, who is looking increasingly unlikely to get the winner of UFC 140 Jones vs. Machida. The UFC has hinted they may choose to maintain the momentum with Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Henderson next in line after his victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 139 in an absolute classic.
Henderson and Evans may well be rightfully ahead in terms of their respective pedigree in warranting a title shot, but in my opinion it may be Davis who poses the biggest threat to the reign of the Jon "Bones" Jones era.
Henderson looked out of gas to say the least, and many—including Dana White—believe that last round could have been scored 10-8, resulting in a draw. Hendo could ill-afford gassing out against Jones, who could well use his reach advantage and fantastic striking range that he utilised to put away Shogun to win the title at UFC 128. At the very least, Jones could keep Henderson's devastating right-hand at bay.
Despite the tear Henderson has been on, I cannot see him imposing his will against Jones, and the winner of a possible Evans vs. Davis showdown could pose a more well-rounded threat to the champion.
Jones himself, starting with a wrestling base, is a freak athlete with an explosive, unpredictable style. He is possibly one of the most naturally-gifted fighters in terms of the drastic improvement and evolution as a MMA and UFC light heavyweight king; at the tender age of 23 he is the youngest UFC champion to date.
We have not seen anybody able to put Jones on his back, and how he would react to being pressured is a reason why the fight with Evans (also with a wrestling base) makes sense. My gut feeling tells me Jones is just better than Evans and a more complete athlete in every facet of the game.
I am not saying Davis will surely get past his rumored fight with Evans or beat Jones if and when they fight, as they both have superior stand-up. However, the jiu-jitsu grappling and wrestling pedigree of Davis is arguably superior to both Evans and Jones, and it may well be his style and skill-set that are the kryptonite to light heavyweight champion Jones.