In his last fight at Bellator 180, Phil Davis (17-4-1) dropped the Bellator light-heavyweight title to Ryan Bader (23-5). And in his first fight back on the road to another shot at the title, “Mr. Wonderful” is heading home.
Davis, 33, returns to his college roots Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University, where he was a four-time NCAA Division 1 All-American, to take on Leo Leite (10-0) at Bellator 186.
And he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I mean, how do you not get happy for that?” Davis told MMAPlus. “Anytime I know I’m going back to Penn State I know it’s a good day. Whether it’s football or wrestling. Fighting at the Bryce Jordan Center is top of the top right there.”
Traditional college homecomings are usually highly winnable matchups geared toward the home team. Even though Leite is undefeated, Bellator president Scott Coker and matchmaker Rich Chou have clearly given Davis a matchup he can win in his return to Penn State.
That being said, Davis–while acknowledging he’s expected to win–isn’t taking his Brazilian opponent lightly.
“I’m coming home and even though he’s undefeated I am still the favorite,” he said. “But this is not a squash match.”
He added: “I am not overlooking this guy. He’s 10-0 with I think six finishes. He’s not your ideal matchup. He’s a tough look, man. And there’s a lot of guys who would not take a fight with a guy that is not as well known but is super tough. It’s a mixed bag. Is he the next Dan Henderson? Or is he not? It’s hard to say. I’m certainly not going to speak too soon and say that he is not.”
A win over Leite on Friday will likely earn Davis another shot at the title, which will be against the winner of the Bellator 186 main event between Bader and Linton Vassell. Looking back on the split decision loss to Bader at Bellator 180–the second time he’s lost to Bader in that fashion–Davis was asked how he reacted to it.
“I always take losses in the sense that I am the guy in control and I can always perform better,” said Davis, who is now sponsored by Blackheart Rum. Frankly, I’m the one who let him off the hook. I could’ve performed better and took the fight to him a little bit more. It’s a hard pill to swallow. That’s the truth of the matter. If I say anything else other than, ‘I should’ve done better’ I’m a real loser, as I would say.”
Did losing the title weigh on him for a long time?
“Long enough to make me motivated in my training, but it didn’t put me on suicide watch,” he said. And as for the belt itself, Davis said, “I think about it every day and every night. It’s not that it’s gone forever. You have to get back in the win column, position yourself and get the belt back.”
Since he’s returning to Penn State and he’s a Pennsylvania native, Davis said he will have a “little bit of everything” as far as those who will be coming to see his fight, including: old teammates, classmates, and even his guidance counselor Sandy Meyer, who was called “Team Mom” and gave him great advice, he said.
“She is the best. She was the counselor for the entire wrestling team. We were so lucky to have her. She will just flat out tell you which classes you want to take. ‘Uh, you know what? You don’t want to take this class with this teacher. You want to take this with this teacher.’ It’s great when you get that kind of information with an upperclassmen. It’s even better when you get it from someone who works with the university.”
Since the former Nittany Lion is returning to the school where he posted a 116-15 collegiate record, winning the 197-pound National title in 2008. Has he had a moment to think about how his athletic career has come full circle?
“You know, a little bit. It’s funny, I was talking about my career and how I’ve grown with Ed Ruth (Bellator middleweight and three-time NCAA wrestling champion at Penn State) He’s had a lot of great success in the sport of MMA for the same reasons: it’s a strong fan base, wrestling fan base. And you understand that being a great wrestler will give you a leg up in mixed martial arts. It’s cool.”