With a collegiate wrestling championship in his background, an unbeaten professional record and a nickname of "Mr. Wonderful," it's no wonder that Phil Davis entered the UFC surrounded by great expectations.
Suffice it to say, in his first octagon test at UFC 109, the former Penn State All-American passed with flying colors, dominating former WEC light-heayvweight champion Brian Stann in a unanimous decision victory.
In this interview with MMA FIghting, Davis talks about getting the call to fight in the UFC at this early stage of his career, his first time under the bright lights, living up to the hype and more.
Mike Chiappetta: Now that you've had a couple days to digest it, how'd you feel about your UFC 109 performance?
Phil Davis: It was alright. I have a lot to clean up and fix, but as far as debuts go it was ok; it was solid.
Which parts would you say you need to clean up?
I'd say that I need to refine everything. I can't really say I need to do better at just this or that. I think my standup needs to get better, I think my wrestling needs to get better, I think my jiu-jitsu needs to get better, and I think I need to work at being more explosive.
How would you grade yourself?
I'd say a B-.
Were you nervous?
Sure I was nervous. It was just a matter of telling myself, 'This is gonna happen, you're gonna win, you're the champ,' and going In there and doing what needs to be done.
Did you go in with a specific game plan or just the feeling that you'd adapt to whatever happens?
I really didn't have something in mind per se. I was just going to do what I needed to do. I definitely wanted to take the fight to the ground but at same time, I wasn't going to rush it.
Were you happy with the decisions that you made as the fight played out?
It was good. I was content with the decisions I made but obviously looking back I'm going to make better decisions. I didn't get too wrapped up in the decisions I made. I didn't have to second-guess myself. I thought it was pretty good. But I'll make better decisions next fight.
It's been a pretty quick transition from wrestling to MMA for you. Let's go back a couple months in time, to before you signed your UFC deal. Was there any anxiety that perhaps this call to the UFC came too early in your career?
It has been a quick transition. I'm not going to say the thought never crossed my mind. It definitely did. But a blessing is a blessing. When the UFC calls, you don't really turn them down. You get up and get busy.
Do you still feel like you're making the transition from wrestler to MMA fighter or do you feel like a full-fledged fighter now?
I'm still making transitions. I haven't been doing it long enough to say I'm good at anything. I can't say that I'm good at anything. Yeah I'm good at some things but not anything in MMA.
When you did start making the transition to MMA, did you feel like you were a natural at it?
It's competition. Competition comes natural to me. I'm not saying I'm good at everything I try. I'm just saying when it comes to competing, I'll try to beat you at anything.
There is this belief that a lot of guys suffer from an adrenaline dump their first time out under the bright lights of the UFC. You didn't seem to have that problem at all. Why were you different?
It wasn't too bad. It wasn't too bad. I definitely got that feeling like this is a big deal, but it wasn't to the point where it affected my performance. I did feel a bit hesitant the first period, but I think that was going to happen regardless.
What do you mean you were too hesitant? You didn't look it.
It took me a little bit to settle in to fight. I guess I was feeling him out, you know?
There was a lot of buzz around you because of your credentials and then of course following this win. Is there any concern people will have unrealistic expectations for you? For example, some people criticized you for being unable to finish. Never mind you just dominated a veteran. But is it difficult to handle those big expectations?
No. I didn't even know there were expectations. You're telling me this for the first time. Brian Stann has literally three times as much experience as I do. I had four fights. He was 9-3. [Eds. note: Stann was actually 8-2 before the fight] He has literally three times as much experience as I do. He was in the UFC before I even started training MMA. Why would I have an expectation that I was supposed to beat crap out of him? Yeah I expect to win. But in my mind, a person who says that shows how much they don't know about the sport.
Did you have a sense that people had such expectations of you? They see your wrestling credentials and your unbeaten record and figure you for the next big thing.
I had an idea, but I'm my biggest fan and my biggest critic. You can't lose sight of that. If I think I had a good night, then I had a good night. If I think I need to improve, regardless of what anyone else sees in my fight, then I need to improve.
How'd you celebrate afterward?
Hung out with my family and friends. I had a lot of family and friends who came down to see me. I hung out with them. I was so tired afterward. You don't understand, it's hard to go out and party after a fight. I have so many nerves wrapped up in one night. And that's not even talking about the obvious physical drain that goes along with it. I was tired.
You train with Brandon Vera at Alliance Training Center as well as the guys at American Kickboxing Academy. What made those the right places for you?
You train with who you feel comfortable with. You can't train with people you don't feel comfortable with. Alliance has been my home since I came to California. And AKA, they helped me get a lot of experience and work in. There's a lot of good training partners up there too.
Who would you like to fight next?
I'll tell you who I'd fight. I'd fight Dr. Evil because I think it's wrong he tries to take over the world. He's a super villain. Who can take them down other than a wrestler? Who other than Mr. Wonderful?
Mr. Wonderful vs. Dr. Evil does have a nice ring to it. But moving back to the UFC world, when do you think we'll see you return to the cage?
I would like to get back into the octagon hopefully early this summer, probably around June would be great. I'm just so glad to be in the organization, so we'll see what happens.