For years, Marcus Davis had a simple goal in his mixed martial arts career: "I just wanted to fight," he said. "Didn't matter to me who, when or where. I had a goal of fighting in Ireland and I got to do that twice. But other than that, all that mattered was getting in there and fighting for its own sake."
The Bangor, Maine native, known as "The Irish Hand Grenade," developed a mid-card following in the UFC because of his willingness to engage in crowd-pleasing brawls.
But Davis turned 40 on August 24. He knows time isn't on his side. And with that realization came a renewed sense of purpose and a clear vision for the remainder of his career.
"A world championship was never my top priority," said Davis, (22-9, 1 no-contest) who meets Alexander Sarnavskiy in the opening round of the Bellator season nine lightweight tournament Friday night in Portland, Ore. "It would have been nice, but it wasn't ever the main goal in my career. But now, I see a pathway there and a goal to work for. I've gotten this far and the opportunity to fight my way to a title shot is something that appeals to me."
In a phone interview with MMAFighting.com from his hotel room in Portland, Davis is matter-of-fact and detailed about his goals and intentions, making it clear he's not just another older fighter looking for a final cash grab. Davis has changed up his training camp, his dietary approach and his weight class as he prepares for his Bellator run.
The first part of that meant going back to basics. Before embarking on his MMA career, Davis had a pro boxing career, amassing a 17-1-2 record. While he's still affiliated with both Mark DellaGrotte and Jorge Gurgel, Davis worked extensively with his original boxing trainer, Joe Lake, for this fight.
"I had to go back to my roots," Davis said. "I needed something fresh. I go back to 1993 with Joe and it the sort of thing where, what's old is new.
Next up came a change in diet. While most fighters on the north side of 40 are looking to go up, not down, Davis is dropping to lightweight.
"I've still got my old man strength," said Davis, who went 5-1 on the independent circuit after leaving the UFC in 2011. "That's the last thing to go. The first thing to go is your reaction time and your speed. The changes I've made have made all the difference in the world. Between that and tightening up my striking, I'm lighter on my feet then I've ever been, and yet at the same time, going down to lightweight, I've maintained my strength."
Davis isn't going to pretend that he's super-enthused to be participating in tournament which could see him fight three times in the span of two months. "I can't say this was on my bucket list," he said. "When Bellator approached me and made an offer, I really had to consider the pros and cons of it. But ultimately I decided I liked the idea. I know it's a real challenge and I know it's going to be a bit of a grind, but the way I figure I'll take care of that is just to go out there and finish things in a hurry."
Of course, before Davis can get to a title shot against the winner of the Michael Chandler-Eddie Alvarez rematch, he has to contend with Sarnavskiy, who brings a 23-1 record with 19 finishes into the fight.
"I'm not going to give away the game plan, but let's just say the we see some holes and I'm confident I'm going to finish him Friday night," Davis said.
What you won't see, Davis swears, is a fighter who hangs on too long. He has his goals in mind, he's taking his shot in Bellator seriously, and he's giving himself enough time to sink or swim.
"I've had this line I've been using, I'm not a piece of food, I don't have an expiration date stamped on me," Davis said. "But realistically, I've signed a two-year contract with Bellator. Those two years will be enough to figure out whether I can achieve my goal of becoming a world champion. If I can't, then that's it."