Can we let Phil Davis just be Phil Davis now?
Ever since some other young fighter -- I can't seem to remember his name, but you might have seen him flirting with Kirstie Alley on The Tonight Show the other night -- beat a Brazilian legend to win the UFC lightweight championship a week ago, Davis has been thrust into the spotlight that seeks out potential, raved about as the division's next breakthrough star.
Maybe it's because he, like Jon "Bones" Jones (oh, right, that's the name of the guy from last week), also is a long, lean, strong, dynamic fighter with a collegiate wrestling national championship on his résumé. Or maybe it's because Davis, too, was to be facing a Brazilian legend.
Davis didn't exactly create a déjà vu moment Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night 24 in Seattle. Whereas last weekend's title fight was total "Bones" dominance, Davis struggled for nearly half the fight before taking charge for a unanimous-decision victory over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Davis (9-0) took charge by taking down "Little Nog," something the 2008 NCAA Div. I wrestling champion and four-time All-American surprisingly had difficulty doing. Nogueira (19-5), previously known as pretty much an easy mark for elite wrestlers, stuffed all four takedown attempts in the first round and stopped Davis' first try in the second. But then the man known as "Mr. Wonderful" tweaked his strategy -- going for a single-leg takedown, whereas before he'd attempted double-legs -- and finally got his man to the mat with two minutes left in the round. Finally.
Nogueira did manage to get back to his feet with under a minute left, but Davis was relentless and, despite the Brazilian grabbing the fence (for which he was scolded by referee Herb Dean), the fight was back on the mat within seconds. And Davis spent the rest of the round punching Nog in the noggin, to the point where it looked like Fight Night might turn into night-night. With five ticks left in the second, Davis climbed off and started driving hard knees into the ribcage of Nogueira, who was slumped on his knees and elbows as the horn sounded. Ouch.
As he unsteadily walked to his corner, Nogueira probably was cursing the training partner who had split open the skull of his original opponent, Tito Ortiz, a 36-year-old on a three-fight losing streak. As a replacement foe, he got this undefeated, unrelenting 26-year-old.
Nogueira, 34, looked slowed coming out for the third, though his dangerous left fist was cocked and ready. But while he stalked, Davis had the bounce back in his step. The confusion seen on his face back in the first, when he couldn't get Nogueira to the mat and was eating leather from the former champion amateur boxer, was long gone. "Mr. Wonderful" was confident, and within a minute he once again was on top of his man on the mat, courtesy of another single-leg takedown. After taking a little more damage, Nogueira did manage to gain his feet with about 2½ minutes left. But within 30 seconds he was back on the mat, and that's where he remained until the horn sounded.
After the decision was read -- 30-27 on all three scorecards -- Davis was interviewed by Joe Rogan in the cage and asked if he was surprised by Nogueira's ability, at least early on, to stay on his feet. "No," said Davis. "I know he's tough, man. He's resilient. He learns."
So will Davis. "Mr. Wonderful" might not have been so wonderful Saturday night, but he got something out of this fight that "Bones" Jones did not last week against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He got tested. And now he knows what resilience is all about.
Not ready for Rumble: Bruce Buffer was still bellowing at the center of the cage when Dan Hardy started the fight. As his name and résumé were resounding through the arena, "The Outlaw" was waving Anthony Johnson toward him. Clearly relishing being in with a guy nicknamed "Rumble," Hardy was ready to stand and bang. Well, he didn't stand for long, and the only bang was the sound of the Brit crashing to the mat after a first-minute head kick. Johnson jumped on him and stayed on top for the rest of the round and all but a few seconds of the two that followed. "Rumble," too big and strong to remove, landed a lot of shots but Hardy had the survival skills to go the distance. He might not remember.
Giving notice: Moments after Amir Sadollah had his hand raised following his second-round victory over DaMarques Johnson, he perfectly summed up what appeared to be the difference in the fight. "For those of you who do not know, he took this fight on two weeks' notice, which a lot of guys wouldn't have done," he told Joe Rogan and the crowd. "And I have all the respect in the world for him." Indeed, after two opponents bowed out because of injuries within a week, Johnson stepped in. And he really stepped up in the first round, getting three takedowns and bullying Sadollah. But Amir had all the answers in the second, and either his assault or Johnson's late-replacement conditioning or a combination of the two left DaMarques on the mat, looking gassed, eventually mounted before tapping out to an unyielding barrage of elbows at 3:27. Oh, well, it was good while the tank lasted.
Crank it up: Starting the televised undercard with Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Yung is sort of like starting the Daytona 500 with only half the cars going counterclockwise, the other half going clockwise. You're expecting to see a crash. But this rematch of last year's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots bout, which went to Garcia in a controversial split decision, was less a slugfest and more a keep-your-distance, one-punch-at-a-time match. Garcia, in particular, looked tentative, as if trainer Greg Jackson's patient, cerebral system was robbing him of his animal instinct. He fought with discipline and had an edge in the striking early on, but he did nothing to keep "The Korean Zombie" from closing in, and ultimately Jung took him down late in the first and had his back. Garcia survived that and almost survived a bad position again in the second, but Jung worked a remarkable twister neck crank and got the tap with one second left before the horn. In the interview afterward, Joe Rogan declared it the first twister submission in UFC history. (Except the time when, with a half dozen fighters playing the party game of the same name backstage to loosen up, Lesnar was unable to put his right hand on the yellow circle and gave up.)