Ben Fowlkes
Thursday June 5th, 2008

Marcus Davis knows what boxers think about mixed martial arts. He's been there. He was one of them.

He was one of those guys on sports talk shows comparing the Ultimate Fighting Championship to bar brawls, insisting the fighters are nothing but thugs without any understanding of "the sweet science."

Davis found out he was wrong in possibly the only way anyone can: He stepped in the cage and tried MMA himself.

"As a boxer, when you watch the MMA you think, 'Those guys stink. There's no way they could beat me. If someone tried to shoot in and take me down, I'd just punch them in the face,'" Davis said. "Then you find out the hard way that it doesn't work like that."

That moment came for Davis when he was a contestant on season two of Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter. Still a novice, the Bangor, Maine, native had been a top-ranked professional boxer as a super middleweight on the New England circuit. But after trying his hand at the sport, MMA seemed more like "real fighting."

In his first bout on the reality show, Davis faced ground technician Joe Stevenson, the season's eventual winner. Stevenson quickly slammed Davis to the ground and submitted him, injuring his shoulder in the process. The sting of the loss and the injury lingered, but the pain forced Davis to re-evaluate his training and approach to the sport.

"I didn't throw one punch for six months," he said. "I just taped that arm to my side and would start out on my back every day for six months and just grappled. I traveled all over, grappling with everyone I could. Then, when I was ready to go back to fighting, my manager set me up with a striker and said, 'Don't strike with him. Go out there and grapple. Take him down and submit him.' That's what I did."

Since losing to Melvin Guillard by technical knockout in The Ultimate Fighter finale, Davis went on an impressive 11-fight win-streak. He battled his way back into the UFC and has become a staple on the organization's cards in the U.K., where fans have responded to his explosive fighting style and pride for his Irish heritage. Fittingly nicknamed "The Irish Hand Grenade," Davis is now known primarily for two things: wearing a kilt to the Octagon, and never turning in a dull performance.

But while he's shown the ability to end fights with his submissions, as well as his punching power, the question for Davis is whether he can keep it up against tougher competition. At UFC 85 on Saturday, Davis will face just that.

Returning to the U.K. for his fourth-straight bout in the country, he'll take on fellow American Mike Swick. Though Swick owns a respectable 11-2 record (first as a middleweight and now as a welterweight), and has yet to be stopped in the UFC, he hasn't exactly impressed fans with his ability to finish fights.

"If I go out there and take Swick out in impressive fashion, I will have done something that no one else has done in the UFC," Davis said. "[Yushin] Okami -- it took [Swick] three rounds to win a decision against him. [Swick] might not have looked good against [Josh] Burkman, but he went the distance and won. He beat David Loiseau in a decision. Nobody else has been able to go in there and just starch him. If I do that, then it says something."

It's a match where both men have plenty to gain, but even more to lose. So don't be surprised if they come out with guns blazing. For the former boxer, a striking battle on the feet sounds just about perfect, but the danger for an aggressive fighter like Davis is that the tactician in Swick can avoid attacks long enough to frustrate an competitor into making a mistake.

Finishing Swick would indeed make a statement but losing could put a quick halt to Davis' rise through the welterweight ranks. There's simply too much talent in the division, with a chunk of it located squarely at the top of Saturday's card when former champ Matt Hughes takes on Thiago Alves. An impressive victory over Swick could give Davis a chance to lock horns with the winner.

"I would love for [Swick] to come in and think, 'You know what, I'm going to make a statement, I'm going to stand with him and knock him out,'" Davis said. "I would love for that to happen."

With Swick also looking to prove that he belongs in the welterweight elite, Davis will more than likely get his wish.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.