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Alexis Davis begins her long trot back from the old drawing board

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MONTREAL – The first time Alexis Davis fought Sarah Kaufman was the first time she fought at all. It was back in 2007, at an Ultimate Cage Wars show that they dubbed "Anarchy" out in Winnipeg, long enough ago that Davis only has the foggiest memories of it.

"To be perfectly honest, people are like, you fought Kaufman twice already, and I say, well, we fought twice on paper," Davis says. "But for me, I can barely remember what I did yesterday, so…no, no real memories of that first fight."

Davis has come a long way since that TKO loss to Kaufman in her pro debut. She’s come so far that now she’s making a second circle, beginning with a third fight against Kaufman on Saturday night at UFC 186. The third one is a pick-up-the-pieces rebound fight. This is one is all about direction.

The 30-year-old Ontario native Davis fought her way to the penultimate spot this last July when she stepped in against bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey at UFC 175. She came so close to becoming the best in the world. She only had one final hurdle. The problem was that hurdle was more like a yawning chasm. After Rousey scored a furious 16-second knockout of Davis in what was one of the more memorable KOs of the year, Davis was still a million miles away.

"Obviously it sucked," she says. "I’m going to be straight forward with it. But, it’s how you take it all in the end, whether you’re going to be one of those people who needs a pity party and wants everybody to feel bad, or you’re going to sit on the couch and get fat, or you can use it to motivate you. I really only took a couple of weeks off, that’s it. I took a couple of weeks in San Jose and visited my family there, then went back to Canada to visit people there for a couple of weeks, then I was right back to the gym.  I just wanted to help use it to motivate me until I got my next opponent."

Davis actually told matchmaker Sean Shelby that she wanted to fight as soon as possible after losing to Rousey. Davis wanted to erase the memory of that 16-second blitz and get back to the momentum that brought her there. Before the Rousey bout she’d won five straight fights, three of them in the UFC. After already having defeated Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye, there weren’t a lot of options for Davis to make a quick turnaround.

Nine months later, she finally gets the chance move forward. And it just so happens to be Kaufman, who was the last person to beat her before the Rousey fight. That fight happened at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey in Ohio, and it went down as one of the better fights, bell-to-bell, of 2012. In it, both battered each other all over the cage, turning the tables on each other and chin-checking from the pocket for 15 frenzied minutes.

That second fight? Now that one Davis remembers.

"We were just kind of doing our thing," she says. "And it’s great. To this day people come up and they talk about that fight. For me it’s an honor to be a part of it.

"And it’s exciting to do it again, because you have your certain traits that you don’t change, and our styles kind of grow when we add on to things. But especially for me. My comparison to that fight to my fights to this day, I’m not even the same person. I’m not the same fighter. So, this is a great opportunity for me. I feel like I’ve come a long way, and what better way to find out how far than to fight her. She was my last loss before Ronda, and it was an all-out war."

It’s been a long nine months, but it wasn’t idle. Davis says that besides taking a little bit of personal time away from the cage that she was able to concentrate on herself for a change, rather than fixating on an opponent.

"If you’re fighting someone like Kaufman you’ve really got to work on your footwork and your hands because she’s a great boxer," she says. "But when I have all this time and don’t have an opponent, I can look back at my own footage figure out what I need to work on to be a better fighter."

Yet she’s been keeping tabs on the division, too. Davis, like everyone else who has stood across Rousey and lost, is now focused on finding her way back. It’s a different odyssey on the way back than it was on the way there the first time. She says the fire is different. The feelings are different. The moment means something different. There’s a knowledge. She watched with a familiar sense of vertigo as Cat Zingano had her chance to uproot Rousey at UFC 184 and came up woefully short.

Cat lasted only 14 seconds.

"My first reaction was -- I felt heartbroken for Cat," Davis says. "I just, I almost experienced the same thing myself. It’s…Ronda’s a beast. And you kind of have to take into consideration that she’s a fast starter, and that’s where she’s at her strongest. Both Cat and I were like, nope, we’re not going to play this game, we’ll do our own thing. But live and learn. I’m excited to see how things play out for her in the future. I just want to get past Sarah Kaufman, and hopefully that’s going to put me back in the running so I can have a chance at her again."

Davis was a quiet contender when she made her way to Rousey the first time. She rattled off five victories in a row, but never banged pots and pans along the way. Hers is a direct demeanor, a get-things-done approach that has served her well for the last eight years. She says she took some lessons from the whole encounter with Rousey. She learned to operate under the intensified floodlights of an International Fight Week, as a challenger to the UFC’s biggest star. She was cast in support of that effort, as Rousey’s next victim.

That it played out to expectation eats at her. It has for nine months. Heading into Saturday’s fight, she says she believes she’ll get another crack at a title if she takes care of business. Stranger things have happened. After all, she’s getting a third chance at Kaufman in a fight that materialized out of thin air, why can’t she find her way back to Rousey?

"That’s the reason why we fight, because we want that belt," she says. "We live for the competition. Everybody was like, you’re fighting Sarah again, how do you feel about that? Well, it was an unexpected fight for me too. Of all the people on our roster I didn’t see that it would be Sarah that I would fight again, but I’m taking this as a great opportunity. She’s ranked in the top five. She’s one of the toughest fighters out there. I’m not just fighting a nobody; I’m fighting a tough fight. I’m coming off of losses from her. It’s just going to put me back into the eye of the UFC and get me back on track."