When Phil Davis and Ryan Bader last met in the cage, they were two top ten UFC light heavyweights, jockeying for position in a division being dominated by Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. They fought for 15 minutes to a split-decision win in favor of Bader, who would go on to become a top 5 UFC light heavyweight, while Davis would move to Bellator, winning their light heavyweight tournament then taking their light heavyweight belt in dominating fashion. Bellator was Phil Davis’ kingdom now.
Then Ryan Bader decided to move on from the UFC after two straight violent victories. Now, their split-decision, fought at 4am Stockholm time, is about to be ran back as they meet in Madison Square Garden for the Bellator light heavyweight title. It’s perfect fight drama, and Davis is welcoming the chance for revenge.
Can you tell me about how this even came about? How Bellator approached you about this fight?
Yeah, you know, I wasn’t the original fight that was gonna be on this card. So I was really just planning on going to check it out, and just really enjoy the atmosphere of Madison Square Garden and just be amazed because I know Bellator put all their resources into making this a monster card. So I was really looking forward to just going and watching and I don’t get a chance to do that all the time. But, now that I’m on it, I’m excited about it for completely different reasons. So, you know, it’s gonna be an amazing time.
When Bellator came to you and said, “Hey do you want to defend your belt against a guy who narrowly beat you?” What was your reaction to that?
I told them “lets do this.” Let’s do this. I mean anytime you get a win over me I have a special spot for you. I definitely have not forgotten that you beat me. There’s many things that I forget, to take out the trash, to you know, this or that whatever, you name it. I forget you beat me? Absolutely not. Absolutely not, that did not escape my memory. That is definitely something that I’ve been thinking about over the last two years since he beat me is, you know, I’m gonna get this turkey back one day one how. So, here it is.
The belt’s on the line so the stakes are even higher. If you win, will you want to do a trilogy fight?
You know I’m open to absolutely whatever. I’m open to absolutely whatever. If a trilogy makes somebody feel special, we’ll do that too.
Do you feel like Bellator his your house and you have to defend it along with the belt?
Absolutely. I was one of the first guys to come over and I absolutely take pride in saying that this is my promition and I’m gonna show you the ropes.
You really did break that dam when everyone started coming over. It seems interesting that so many people followed you. Since he was the last fight you had in the UFC, do you think that adds another layer of drama to the fight because so many people are coming over now?
Oh, absolutely. Some people think that, “Oh he left UFC because of this that and that.” Not at all. Bellator has definitely has the top talent that the UFC has. They just have a lot more guys on the roster. And you want to see that on display in Madison Square Garden.
Do you think the moves being made are allowing the Bellator light heavyweight division to compare to the UFC’s?
At the top of the weight classes, I mean, it’s an absolute a toss-up who wins between champions, and that’s what you’re going against. You look at even some of the guys that left Bellator to go to the UFC. They do very well, and the fans, the true fans of this sport, there’s no wool pulled over their eyes. They see that there’s talent and both Bellator and anywhere else in the world. What you’re gonna get at Madison Square Garden is just the best of the best.
Can you speak to the overall vibe of Bellator? Because right now it feels like the UFC is in kind of a weird place, fighters are complaining a lot, whereas Bellator is putting on these crazy big shows and pulling out all the stops and going to Madison Square Garden.
Right. Well, here’s what I don’t want to do is speak negatively about anyone else. I can really only say about how guys feel at Bellator. I think there’s a pretty good … I think there’s some synergy, there’s a great, great vibe between the fighters, both the fighters and the promoter and I feel like there’s some great synergy that we have going into this next year.
Ryan Bader says he’s improved far more than you since your last fight. What do you say to that?
Well he’s gonna need to. He’s gonna need to if he can last the extra two rounds. I think he benefited from what was ultimately just a terrible idea. He and I fought at what was four in the morning, Sweden time. It was actually later than that because the main card started at four in the morning. We were probably, I think our report time was at like, 1:30 am. The whole fight card, it was aired live to the west coast at seven, and Sweden is nine hours ahead. Eight or nine hours ahead, I don’t know what it is, but it was just terrible timing no matter who you are, what you are, what you do. Four AM is just not your best hour. It’s not when you’re at peak performance. So, I mean, the same is true for him, I’m pretty sure would say the same about that fight, so if he’s gotten better, great. I’d love to see it.
He says that you don’t like to get hit. Does anyone like getting hit?
He’s going to have to defend that comment, I’m not gonna defend that for him (laughs). What I like doing is slipping punches, and hitting the other guy. Some people think it’s their job to get hit, my job is to beat the other guy up. When I’m fighting, and I’m on rhythm, I do that very well. So I guess he’s right, and I guess he likes to get hit. Looks like we’re a perfect married couple, he likes to get hit, and I don’t like to get hit. I guess that’s meant to be somewhat of a backhanded comment. No, I’m not gonna allow you to hit me. I want to move, I want to strike and I want to out-position you. I’m gonna punch, I’m gonna strike first. The name of this game is to kill, not be killed.
When you took the belt, you basically smothered McGeary and just dominated him for five rounds. But some people call that boring, I call it domination. Does that get to you at all?
Well, you have to look at a couple of things. There’s times when a guy is not engaging, he’s not striking. I put on quite a few submission attempts. I split his face open with a bunch of elbows. It was really one of those situations where he didn’t really have the opportunity to put me in danger. I tried to, I made sure of that. I made sure of that, and sometimes the stuff gets too one-sided and you’re like, “man this guy doesn’t stand a chance. This isn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be, this is just one guy beating the other guy up.” That’s when my job is done right.
Are your eyes still on King Mo in the future?
I fight everybody who steps up I fight everybody who wants it. I don’t turn down fights, I just say “when.”
Since you’re a big dude, I don’t know what you walk around at, but would you ever be considering a money weight fight? Maybe Fedor?
I’m not opposed to it. I’m definitely not opposed to it, but you know, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself as far as really cementing my legacy at the light heavyweight division either.
Can you speak to that, what are your plans? What are Phil Davis’ goals for the next year or two?
I want to fight about four or five times and finish every single one of them.
There were rumors that Bellator may go to Penn State, for a card. Have you heard about this?
I heard it from you. That’s kind of a lie, I’ve heard that before you (laughs) I did also hear it from you. But no, I haven’t heard that, if that happens, that will be a dream come true.
Bellator is promoting in a unique way, going to the NASCAR events and now possibly bringing you and Ed Ruth to Penn State. What are your thoughts on these out-of-the-box events?
Super excited. Bellator, they’re full of great ideas and every time I turn around they’re rolling out a new idea that no one else has done. Even from the start of my career at Bellator, when I was at the tournament, performing a one-night tournament, it was a great idea, it hadn’t been done in a very long time, and it went off without a hitch. It was awesome. I got two first-round finishes, and man, I can’t think of a better way to end the night, or end my debut with Bellator.
Oh, when you won the one-night tournament, you didn’t see that you were gonna get a belt, and your face of surprise when you got the belt wrapped around your waist was one of the best moments of the MMA year.
Oh that was, it was an awesome moment.