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Liam McGeary says ‘boring’ Phil Davis is a competitor, not a fighter: ‘There’s a difference’

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Liam McGeary Bellator MMA

Liam McGeary waited 14 long months between his triumph over Tito Ortiz and his Nov. 2016 fight against Phil Davis. That’s an eternity for a man who likes to fight as often as possible, and for the former Bellator light heavyweight champion, who dropped his belt in an uneventful contest against Davis at Bellator 163, the performance left McGeary wanting for all of the wrong reasons.

“Look, I’m glad I got a cut over my head, right, because if I’d have lost my belt and I didn’t have a scratch on my face, I’ll have been a little bit pissed off,” McGeary told MMA Fighting ahead of his main event tilt against Brett McDermott on Friday at Bellator 173.

“So I’m glad he (Davis) cut me. But I was trying to give him an arm triangle, I was just trying to give him something to try and finish me off, because at least if he went for something, I could’ve had a chance to get out of it. But he didn’t. I mean, everybody knows he’s a good wrestler. Everybody knows I’m English and wrestling isn’t my top point. But that was his game. He did what he does. I’m not taking anything away from him being who he is, but nobody wants to see that.”

McGeary, 34, suffered his first professional loss against Davis, falling on the wrong side of a lopsided unanimous decision in a wrestling-heavy fight that was roundly booed by the crowd in Uncasville’s Mohegan Sun Arena. The result cut short an otherwise sterling 8-0 start for McGeary under the Bellator umbrella — a run in which the Englishman established himself as one of the most exciting fighters at 205 pounds outside of the UFC, largely on the strength of a slew of impressive first-round finishes.

But if McGeary built his reputation on the unpredictability of his fights, his meeting against Davis was the antithesis of that. Inevitably, in each round of the five-round contest, Davis took McGeary down to the mat and smothered him under a methodical combination of top control and positional dominance.

“Boring” is a label that Davis had battled in the past, and McGeary is only the latest Davis opponent to join his voice into that chorus. But while the strategy may not have been pretty, it was certainly effective. And McGeary also left the arena that night at Bellator 163 determined never to let it happen ever again.

“Fight fans want to see exciting fights,” McGeary said. “Fight fans want to see people at least going for a finish. If you’re in top mount and you’re in a dominant position, f*cking finish the fight. Fighters only really want to finish the fight. Throw your punches, throw your elbows, and continue to rain down your dominance. But to just sit there, do a couple hits, move position, do a couple more hits, it’s like, man, that’s why I was annoyed underneath.

“Just f*cking finish it. Don’t drag this out for five rounds. If you have this fifth round, you’ve obviously won the fight, then try and attempt to finish me. But he didn’t, and that was the annoying part. The next time I get in there with him, I will not let him do this, and I will not let him do that, and I f*cking fight him until he begs me to stop. And I will finish the fight. That’s what I do. I fight to finish, and I enjoy finishing fights because it makes everybody else happy, you know? That’s why you put on a show for all the fans, you want to finish it.”

Ultimately, the Davis fight served as a worst-case ending for a worst-case scenario that stretched over a year as McGeary recovered from a nasty knee injury that sidelined him from all but the most basic sort of physical activity.

McGeary said he spent most of 2016 stuck on the couch, unable to walk much, while struggling to pay his rent and feed himself due a lack of a paycheck — and things could have been far worse if not for help from his sponsors. By the time he was finally healthy enough to train, McGeary said he threw himself into a frenzied training regimen hoping to make up for lost time, rather than easing himself back into the gym like he should have. And those mistakes ultimately betrayed him on fight night.

“I was training up to four times a day, just trying to cram [everything] in,” McGeary said. “I knew I had to wrestle, I knew I had to strike, I knew I had to do jiu-jitsu, I knew I had to do strength and conditioning — he does a lot of strength and conditioning — so I was trying to cram everything in every day, and it just wore me out, mate, to be honest with you. I got into the fight and I felt fatigued, and as soon as the round started, I started to throw a couple of punches and I’m like, here we go.

“I was on the phone to my manager the next day (after the loss), and I was like, ‘listen, I don’t want to be messing around. Let’s do this. Let’s get back in there as soon as possible.’ The 14-month layoff was way too much. You spend 14 months out, so let’s play catch-up and get some fights back in there. I believe my performance was just down to a lack of fighting over the last year and a bit, and then cramming everything into a fight camp, which, I freaked out and just did way too much.”

McGeary compared the experience at Bellator 163 to a sparring session where his head just refused work in conjunction with his body from the very start of round one.

“I try to throw a four- or five-punch combination, and only two punches come out,” he explained. “It’s like, oh, it’s going to be one of these ones. It was a long, frustrating night.”

But while McGeary faults only himself for the lackluster performance he put up against Davis, he remains uninspired when he sees the way Davis handles himself in the cage. The Englishman has only watched the fight back “in spurts,” never the whole thing, simply because of the tediousness of the action. And when it comes down to it, McGeary wonders if Davis wants to be a fighter at all.

“He’s a competitor,” McGeary said. “There’s a difference between a fighter and a competitor, right? Anyone can go into a competition and say, ‘I like to go into competitions and win competitions.’ Eh, f*cking everybody does, you know? I like to go into fights and I like to win fights. I’m pretty pissed off if I lose a fight because someone just wants to win on points. F*ck points.”

Nonetheless, this time around, in advance of his fight against McDermott, McGeary has vowed to return to the formula that elevated him to the top of the Bellator light heavyweight division. He has worked diligently to avoid over-training, and is once again focusing on what he does best in the gym, rather than fixating on his opponent’s strengths like he did against Davis. And like many champions before him, McGeary hopes to use his first professional loss as a springboard upon which the next great chapter of his legacy can be written.

“You make the best out of a bad situation,” McGeary said. “The best part, or the best thing that we can take out of this is, now that I’m hungry and I want my belt back, that I’m going to be putting on these exciting fights to get back at Phil Davis. So that’s the only thing, the best thing that’s going to come out of this.

“That’s what we’ll have everyone talking about.”