Phil Davis, the highly regarded light heavyweight prospect, was cautious and reserved, not willing to go beyond the expected when discussing his bout on Saturday against veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the main event of Ultimate Fight Night 24 at Key Arena in Seattle, Wash.
Davis wasn't about to go for the comparisons between himself and the Ultimate Fighting Championship's newly christened light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones.
He spoke in nearly reverential tones of Nogueira and called it "an honor" to have the opportunity to face the former PRIDE Fighting Championship star.
But despite his reserved nature before the first main event of his career, Davis is clearly an easy going, light-hearted guy who has won the respect of fans and, more importantly, his fellow fighters.
Over the last few days on Twitter, fans and fighters have been using the hash tag #sowonderful to pay tribute to Davis, the four-time All-American wrestler at Penn State, in many odd, quirky and humorous ways.
Former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Urijah Faber tweeted that Davis, whose nickname is "Mr. Wonderful" is so wonderful that "Santa Claus sits on his lap and tells him what he wants for Christmas." Earlier, Faber tweeted of Davis that he is so wonderful "his best takedown set up is to stun his opponents with his smile."
Benson Henderson, the former WEC lightweight champion, joined in, tweeting, Davis is so wonderful "that he doesn't need to jump on grenades (because) girls jump on grenades for him."
One fan tweeted that Davis is so wonderful that "Mister Rogers moved to his neighborhood." Another wrote, Davis is so wonderful that "Christmas is now known as Philmas."
On and on it's gone for the better part of the last week. The guy who says "I've never been under the impression I'm a good fighter," has clearly made an impact upon the fans and his peers with both his talent and his rapid rate of improvement.
In the wake of Jones' devastation of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in their match for the light heavyweight title last week, many fans have tabbed Davis as the only man in the division with a chance to stop Jones' reign.
Despite Jones’ talents, that's a little much given the depth of the 205-pound class, but a Jones-Davis match seems to be one that, down the line, could be a defining bout for each of them.
Davis, though, insists he doesn't even think about competing for the title, even though he's all the rage these days in terms of talk about legitimate contenders.
"I don't let myself think about fighting for the title and I won't until (UFC president) Dana White says it's time for me to do it," Davis said. "Right now, I'm training to get better. When I'm good enough, they'll say 'Go get 'em.' When they say 'Get 'em,' I got 'em. But until then, I know I have a lot of weaknesses I need to work on, so my only goal is to leave the gym each day better than I was when I walked in. That's it."
The UFC clearly has plans for Davis, as it has kept him extremely busy since he made his UFC debut in February 2010. He's 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the UFC and Saturday's bout will be his fifth in 13 months.
Not only will he have to face the toughest test of his career when he meets the veteran Nogueira, he also will have to do it having had to prepare for three opponents. He was originally slated to face Matt Hamill. But when the UFC decided to make a Hamill-Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fight, it paired Davis with Jason Brilz. But when Tito Ortiz was injured and had to pull out of the main event with Nogueira, Davis was moved up to take his place.
For a guy who says he stills has a lot of holes in his game, that's asking a lot. Heck, it's a bit tough for a guy with Randy Couture's experience. Of course, Couture debuted in the UFC when Davis was 12, so he can deal with those kinds of changes a little better than the 26-year-old Davis.
Davis, though, is hardly the kind to get rattled. His approach is a studious one, akin to the way Fedor Emelianenko handled himself through most of his legendary career.
"I feel pretty comfortable everywhere now and the biggest adjustment is that I don't feel like I'm going to die every time I step into the cage," he said. "I'm a professional and this is what I do for a living. It's like driving. The first couple of times I drove a car, I was scared to death. But now, I barely give it any thought.
"I'm not quite there yet in MMA, but the guys who do it best, guys like Anderson (Silva), Fedor, (Alistair) Overeem, they're calm. They're cool. They're collected. Their thoughts are in order and their wits are about them. That's the kind of a guy I want to be."
His close friend and training partner, Dominick Cruz, the UFC's bantamweight champion, raved about Davis' progression, noting he's open-minded and willing to consider any idea.
That ability to analyze and process information and use it to make meaningful improvement is one of the things that has set him apart. And while wrestling remains his strength, Cruz said it's a mistake to consider Davis a one-trick pony.
"People underestimate his striking abilities," Cruz said. "He's learning, he's improving and he's getting better every single day at setting up strikes, reading strikes and using his body type to work his striking for him."
Davis is quick to say that he's not there yet. But if he continues the ascent he's been on, this much is true:
It won't be long before his full MMA game is, well, #sowonderful.
- Jon Jones
- Antonio Rogerio Nogueira