Back in April, when the fight between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis was first announced, the general reaction to the announcement was that Davis was being matched up against an opponent he wasn’t ready for. Now that we’re in mid-July, things haven’t really changed. I already wrote when this fight was announced that Davis is in fact ready for a fight like this. I highly encourage everybody to read what I wrote in that link, because I think it’s probably my best rant since I started writing about MMA.
Just as the opinions of others haven’t changed, my opinion hasn’t changed either, but I want to take a broader view about prospect development. It’s interesting to see some people cite my study on career lengths in MMA and use that to argue that Davis isn’t experienced enough to be facing top competition. The problem is that, according to my study, a fighter’s prime begins in their approximate third year of fighting in professional MMA. Since Davis made his professional MMA debut on October 11th, 2008, for him, the third year of fighting began on October 11th, 2010. As it turns out, my research suggests that Davis is ready right now.
We’ve seen this movie before. In fact, we saw it with a fighter you may have heard of named Jon Jones. After dispatching of Vladimir Matyushenko last August, Jones was matched up against Ryan Bader at UFC 126. While many, including myself, were excited about the fight, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to see the fight, because they didn’t want the UFC to “rush” Jones. As it turns out, Jones (who, by the way, was in his third year of fighting) took out Bader with relative ease, and proceeded to defeat Mauricio “Shogun” Rua the next month at UFC 128 to become the UFC light-heavyweight champion. In many cases, while some people are worried about a “prospect” being “rushed,” that prospect is busy taking his place as an elite fighter in his division.
When I wrote in my piece on the Nine-Year Rule that fighters shouldn’t be thrown into the fire, I was specifically referring to fighters such as Bu Kyung Jung. Jung made his professional MMA debut at Yarennoka in Japan – against none other than Shinya Aoki. Jung showed that he clearly has some talent, as he took Aoki to a decision and even was attempting an armbar at one point against the submission expert. Then, in his following fight, Jung was thrown into the fire again, against Mitsuhiro Ishida. Once again, Jung made it to decision but fell short. These are extremely impressive performances for a fighter who truly is inexperienced in MMA, but the result of Jung being thrown into the fire is that he’s now 0-4 with no hope of putting together an actual MMA career.
Phil Davis is not being thrown into the fire. At 9-0, Davis has already beaten Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (a fighter who people were calling a real title threat not that long ago), Tim Boetsch, Rodney Wallace, Alexander Gustafsson, and Brian Stann. According to the awesome website Fight Metric, Davis has the UFC record for fewest significant strikes absorbed per minute – and at 0.38, nobody else is even close. Davis may have a limited skill set from an offensive standpoint, but his ability to avoid damage, avoid being taken down, and avoid being submitted is without equal in the UFC. He’s ready for Rashad Evans.
I’ve noticed that often, when a fight is announced, people will take sides regarding who is going to win the fight. An intellectual war of sorts ensues, in which the two sides make arguments explaining why their fighter will win and the other side’s fighter will lose. (They often do so in an incoherent and illogical manner.) When the actual fight takes place, and a winner is determined, the winner’s acolytes take to the internet to boast about what geniuses they all are, while the loser’s proponents make excuses designed to protect their bruised ego.
This type of gamesmanship often results in distorted analyses of a fight. The current betting lines have Evans as a slight favorite, somewhere from -125 to -150, and Davis as a slight underdog. I think I’m the only person who thinks (or at least has said) that the oddsmakers have it about right. For what it’s worth, SILVA gives Evans a similar slight edge (54.74 for Evans, 52.12 for Davis). Perhaps Evans has an advantage with his experience, but he gives it back with the 16-month layoff he’s bringing into the cage.
Here’s the question I would ask: if Phil Davis isn’t ready to be fighting against top-tier opponents now, when would he be? What would it take to convince you that Davis is ready?
Here’s my prediction: if Phil Davis manages to beat Rashad Evans at UFC 133, he’ll be the next challenger to the UFC light-heavyweight title, against either Jon Jones or Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Here’s my other prediction: if Davis beats Evans and is the next challenger to the title, he’ll become the UFC light-heavyweight champion, regardless of whether or not Jones defends his title against Jackson. It’s because Phil Davis is already in his prime, he’s not a prospect anymore, and fighters like Rashad Evans are exactly who he should be facing at this point in his career.