By Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports
January 9, 2008
It didn't take too many occurrences of signing for a $15,000 purse and walking home with just $5,000 to sour Marcus Davis on professional boxing.
He was, he says proudly, a fighter all his life and he was going to find a way to fight one way or another.
But boxing was making him a miserable person and the man known as “The Irish Hand Grenade” finally had gotten fed up.
"I just had so many issues and problems, with management and other things, and I was in and out of court so much with all of that," Davis said. "I pretty much got tired of the dirty aspect of boxing. I'd get half — or less — of what I was promised (in a purse). I wasn't getting the fights I wanted. Things weren't going in the direction I wanted.
"After a while, I couldn't stomach it any more. It was making me sick. Literally. I had to get away from it."
The Bangor, Maine, native reached the end when he faced Ed Bryant in a super middleweight fight on Oct. 13, 2000. He was 17-0-2 at the time and on the verge of being ranked at super welterweight.
He was offered the fight with Bryant at super middleweight and was encouraged to accept it. He did, but he didn't prepare. Even though he was proud of that zero in the loss column, he barely trained.
When he got into the ring weighing 168 pounds, he knew he was in a foreign land where he didn't belong.
The bout began and Davis suffered a deep gash. That was hardly news, since Davis seemed to cut whenever anyone would even think of throwing a punch at him.
The wound, though, was deep, blood was pouring and the ringside doctor was concerned for his safety. At that moment, anyway, Davis didn't want to quit. He convinced everyone to let him fight on.
Not long after the fight resumed, though, Davis had an epiphany. He threw a couple of punches without real conviction, took a lot more in return, and began to think.
He was undefeated and doing well in sparring sessions with notable fighters like Dana Rosenblatt and Micky Ward that it wasn't unreasonable for him to think he'd reach the top 10 in his division.
It flashed through his mind that if anyone cared about him, they wouldn't have had him in this fight. He knew he'd reached the end.
"No one cared about me, they weren't giving me what I'd earned, they weren't moving me the way I should have been moved and I just got sick and tired of being taken advantage of all the time," Davis said.
But Davis, 34, knew he couldn't simply walk away from fighting. He grew up, he says, "real hard," and was constantly getting into trouble for fighting.
He fought his first pro boxing match at 19 and had been throwing punches as long as he could remember. It wasn't long after his pro debut — a second-round TKO of Luis Guzman in Bangor, Maine —that Davis flipped on his television set and saw a show that changed his life.
He saw a mixed martial arts event and was amazed by what he had seen.
And so when he was nearing the boiling point in his boxing career, he made a decision.
"I wanted to be a real fighter," he said. "I wanted to be the real deal. I'd always thought that boxers were the toughest, baddest fighters on the planet. But was I wrong!"
Davis grabbed a telephone book and looked in the Yellow Pages. He saw a gym with the Gracie name attached to it and was intrigued.
The Gracie name resonated with him, so he made a call and was invited down.
He took a 17-1-2 pro boxing record with him as well as a set of preconceived notions about his toughness that would soon be proven false.
"I hid the fact I was a boxer," Davis said. "I didn't want it to get out that I was there."
It turns out, it was a smart decision, at least if he ever had thoughts of resurrecting his boxing career and maintaining his tough-guy image. Because as he began to spar at the gym, he was repeatedly and easily submitted.
"I was getting absolutely (abused)," he said.
He knew from those early moments that this was the kind of fighter he was destined to be.
Davis is now 13-3 as a mixed martial artist, but most stories about him still talk about his boxing background. Davis, though, eschews the notion that he is a boxer who is successful at MMA.
He is, he'll repeat over and over, a professional mixed martial artist who once happened to be a boxer.
He'll meet Jess Liaudin on Jan. 19 at UFC 80 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. He's convinced that when people watch that fight, they'll agree with him that his transformation from boxer to mixed martial artist is complete.
"Pretty much every fight I've had recently, when the fight is over, people will come up to me and say, 'You did something in that fight that I didn't think you could do,' " he says matter-of-factly. "And you know what? They're right. I add something for every fight. The Marcus Davis you'll see in Newcastle is nothing like the Marcus Davis you saw against Paul Taylor."
The Davis who submitted Taylor with a perfectly executed armbar at UFC 75 in London appeared to be a guy ready to move to the next step on his way to welterweight title contention.
He's far from the guy who rolled on those mats as a boxer in the Gracie gym in Maine, or from the guy who helped introduce fellow Mainer and future UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia to MMA.
Sylvia wanted to become an MMA fighter and asked Davis to help him with his striking. At the time, the 6-foot-8 Sylvia weighed around 335 pounds and was a semi-pro football player. Davis had his doubts whether he'd be able to make it.
"I didn't think he had the coordination," Davis said.
But, Davis says, Sylvia sacrificed greatly to reach his goal. It wasn't long, Davis said, before Sylvia was becoming an inspiration for him. When Sylvia knocked out Ricco Rodriguez to win the UFC heavyweight title on Feb. 28, 2003, Davis was beside himself with glee.
He was months from his own MMA debut, but Sylvia's win made him consider the possibilities of what he might do.
"Standing up, I knew my hands were better than Tim's," Davis said. "I had to learn to fight off the ground. Tim's so huge, no one could really get him to the ground, but that was a luxury I didn't have. I knew if I could learn how to fight on the ground, I could make something of myself in this sport."
And now he has, with consecutive wins over Forrest Petz, Shonie Carter, Pete Spratt, Jason Tan and Paul Taylor pushing him up the ranks in the UFC's welterweight division.
It's a long way for a guy who used to beat all the neighborhood kids in Bangor in arm wrestling, only to lose to his own mother.
His mother, Melinda McKinnon Davis, is "an unbelievably tough woman," he says. She'd take on all comers in the neighborhood in arm wrestling and reel off victory after victory.
Years later, it's his turn to reel off win after win. And though he's moving inexorably toward a title shot, he had to make one admission: He's still not sure he can beat Mom in arm wrestling.
"That's OK," he said, chuckling. "Because I don't know anyone else who can, either. I'll win my fights and she wins hers and we'll have two champions in the family."
Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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Updated on Wednesday, Jan 9, 2008 5:04 pm, EST
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