Déjà vu all over again: Nogueira, Davis square off at Fight Night 24
The main event features a seasoned fighter from Brazil with prodigious striking skills and a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu against a long, lean, athletic, young African-American with a decorated background in wrestling. Why am I having a déjà vu experience right now?
Phil Davis should hope the whole mixed martial arts world gets that same "haven't-I-seen-this-before" feeling Saturday night when he faces Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 24 in Seattle (Spike, 10 p.m. ET, prelims on the UFC's Facebook fan page at 9). After all, in the little scenario I laid out above, Davis would be stepping into the role played last weekend by Jon "Bones" Jones, who dominated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128 to win the light heavyweight title.
Noguiera, on the other hand, should be wondering what he did to offend UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who originally put him in against fading 36-year-old Tito Ortiz, loser of his last three fights. When Ortiz was injured in training and pulled out of the bout, "Little Nog" was instead given Davis, a 26-year-old whose career trajectory is rocketing in a whole different direction than Tito's. Known as "Mr. Wonderful," Davis is undefeated, including four UFC wins last year. Before starting in MMA, he was an NCAA Division I national champion wrestler at Penn State and a four-time All-American.
Perhaps the greatest endorsement of Davis (8-0) is that, even in advance of his Fight Night showdown, he's been touted this week by media and fans alike as the light heavyweight best equipped to put up a fight against the seemingly unbeatable "Bones" Jones. "I think it's an honor that people are saying that they think that I will fight for the belt one day, and Lord willing, one day I will," Davis said during a Fight Night 24 media teleconference last week. "Right now I have to worry about Nogueira. If I don't get past him, there is no title shot."
He did, however, have Jones on his mind, even before the 23-year-old became champ with a shockingly dominant performance. "He was able to accomplish so much in a relatively short period of time," said Davis, "so I don't know how I could look at him and not be a little bit inspired."
Davis is also feeling humble. In the presence of Nogueira, that is. "I'm thrilled just to be in the same Octagon as him," he said of the man who has beaten Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, Strikeforce heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem (twice, actually), Vladimir Matyushenko and Kazushi Sakuraba. "He's one of those guys that have been around forever. He presents a challenge in every area: stand-up, on the ground, against the fence. It definitely took a lot of thought before I agreed to this fight."
For Nogueira (19-4), a change of opponent is "definitely a different state of mind," he acknowledged, especially with him now facing a man even more able than Ortiz to take advantage of Nog's weakness as a wrestler. But the former Brazilian national champion boxer is focusing on the opportunity the weekend in Seattle presents. "This is definitely a great moment in my career," Nogueira said during the teleconference. "I'm very honored to be fighting in the main event of a UFC card, and it's a big step for me."
It could be a giant step forward in the light heavy pecking order for Nogueira, who had won seven straight bouts before losing a unanimous decision to Ryan Bader last September. If "Little Nog" can derail the hype train by handing Davis his first loss, that would pump a whole lot more momentum into his career than simply being the latest to squash Ortiz.
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