Posted 04/22/2014 by McKinley Noble in UFC

UFC 172: Why Does the UFC Hate Phil Davis?

In an alternate universe, Phil Davis would be one of the UFC’s biggest stars.

He’s a highly-decorated four-time NCAA Division I All-American. He’s charming. He’s witty. He’s a bit of an athletic freak. He’s one of the best young talents in MMA today.

And the UFC seems to hate him.


That’s hard to tell, but UFC president Dana White has made little secret of the fact that he’s not high on “Mr. Wonderful” as a title contender. Although Davis holds wins over popular fighters like Lyoto Machida and Alexander Gustafsson, Dana will be quick to tell you that this Top 5 light heavyweight is supposedly “cool” with never being UFC champion and doesn’t have that fire anymore. Keep in mind, all of this is despite a stellar 8-1-1 UFC record against solid competition.

For educated MMA fans, this is both baffling and frustrating.

What’s even more concerning is the way that Davis is handled from a matchmaking perspective.

In just his last five fights, his competition has gone from former UFC champion (Rashad Evans) to untested prospect (Wagner Prado) to overmatched mid-carder (Vinny Magalhaes) to former UFC champion (Lyoto Machida). But despite that kind of pinballing, Davis came out on top, including a huge upset win over Machida. It’s just too bad he’s nowhere close to a title shot for his efforts.

Again, why?

It could be the fact that Davis hasn’t finished an opponent in his last two fights.

But that’s ridiculous, since it ignores his collection of impressive submission wins, including creative anaconda chokes and modified kimuras. Mixed with his impressive wrestling base, it usually spells disaster for even high-level grapplers. And yes, Davis’ striking is certainly nothing to write home about despite his massive size advantages, but it’s functional and damaging.

Perhaps it’s Davis’ somewhat shady personal history.

After all, he’s been a student of Lloyd Irvin and Penn State University, two things very closely associated with sexual abuse scandals (H/T CagePotato).

That’s never a good look, especially with TMZ on your case over domestic violence issues.

Or, maybe it’s the fact that Phil Davis hasn’t scored a single KO or TKO win in 10 UFC fights.

That’s far more likely when you consider the UFC’s most recent “action-first” bookings and roster cuts.

For all of Davis’ world-class talents, he hasn’t quite yet developed a lethal finishing arsenal with his striking like Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Glover Teixeira, Shogun Rua, or even divisional grandfather Dan Henderson. Promotionally, that could be a huge sticking point with Dana, as well as Fox Sports. When your biggest wins aren’t highlight reel material, the UFC simply doesn’t know what to do with you.

That’s also a good explanation for why Davis is fighting Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at UFC 172.

From a marketing standpoint, Rumble is everything the UFC wants in light heavyweights: youth, power, and finishing ability. It also doesn’t hurt that in his last 10 fights, Johnson’s put away five opponents with punches and head kicks. At this point in his career, putting Johnson on TV or pay-per-view practically guarantees a smashing, and it paid off well for World Series of Fighting.

And just to hammer the point home, Johnson’s getting the co-main slot on Jones’ PPV card—reasonably high-profile booking for someone once cut from the UFC.

In a nutshell, that’s probably why Davis just barely floats “in the mix” while the whole division moves around him.

With the UFC unwisely selling all their fighters as indistinguishable “monsters” nowadays (sagely dubbed by Mike Fagan as the “Everything is Awesome” strategy) anyone who isn’t brutally curb-stomping their opponents becomes a liability.


So once again, Phil Davis is finding himself in a crappy position.

Winning this fight likely does nothing to move him up the crooked UFC rankings ladder. Knowing how the UFC rankings work, a tepid split decision could get Davis ranked under Johnson come next Monday. And of course, losing simply knocks him far out of title contention, possibly for good.

Thankfully, Phil Davis is just 29 years old.

Although the UFC’s had no problem cutting a guy coming off three wins, it helps that he’s not as old or “expensive” as ex-UFC talent like Jon Fitch, Yushin Okami, and Jake Shields. But the slightest perception of a stagnant fighting game can damage anyone in the long run. And if Davis loses on Saturday, he might lose a lot more than his spot in the UFC light heavyweight title hunt.


McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in NVisionBleacher Report, PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, MMA Mania and The L.A. Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.

McKinley Noble