In recent memory, there aren’t many fights I’ve been more wrong about than Hector Lombard vs. Jake Shields. Going into that match, I felt that while Lombard had significant advantages in punching power and takedowns, that Shields could win anyway due to sheer volume of striking. After all, Shields won a decision against Tyron Woodley based mostly on volume, so why couldn’t he do it against Lombard? As it turns out, not only was Shields unable to strike with volume, his offensive output was limited to just four significant strikes in 15 minutes of action.
That fight has changed how I view battles between points strikers with no power (Shields) and hard-hitting sluggers who aren’t so great at winning on points (Lombard). At some point, the power differential is so great that the points striker is rendered ineffective, a result of simply being afraid to stand in the pocket against an opponent who is a constant threat to knock his head off his shoulders.
That brings us to Phil Davis vs. Anthony Johnson.
In many ways Davis is the Jake Shields of the light-heavyweight division. He’s an excellent overall grappler and probably a better offensive wrestler than Shields. On the feet, Davis is very good at landing strikes without being hit back, as he’s landed a total of 380 significant strikes while absorbing just 144. However, Davis also “can’t bust a grape” as he has yet to land a single knockdown despite fighting in the light-heavyweight division.
That means Davis will probably want no part of the striking game against “Rumble,” who returns to the UFC after a successful stint as a light-heavyweight and even heavyweight in Titan FC and World Series of Fighting. Johnson’s history of cutting extreme amounts of weight is behind him now, and what’s left is a fighter whose knockout power has played very well against respectable opponents. Johnson has won six in a row with four wins coming by way of knockout.
Before that, Johnson landed eight knockdowns in 213 significant strikes in the UFC for a very low ratio of 26.6 strikes per knockdown. Johnson’s pure power with both punches and kicks is enough to cause opponents to desperately flail for takedown attempts against him.
It serves Davis well that his tendency is to avoid striking exchanges in the first place. Davis fights like a man who wants to completely prevent his opponent from landing anything. He stands at long range from his opponents, offering long kicks to the body and straight punches to maintain that distance. If his opponent rushes in, Davis counters by shooting in for a takedown attempt.
Johnson’s historical weakness has been his ground game. He was submitted by much smaller opponents in Josh Koscheck and Rich Clementi in particular, and also finished by that method in his bizarre fight against Vitor Belfort. Despite being taken down only three times in the UFC, Johnson was caught in nine submission attempts and finished three times. That’s a problem against Davis, who ranks as one of the light-heavyweight division’s best submission grapplers.
The key to this fight is very simple: how well will Johnson be able to defend the takedown attempts of Davis? It’s a tough question to answer because while Johnson defended takedowns strongly in the UFC, that was against a series of welterweights. Johnson’s recent light-heavyweight run has come against fighters like Mike Kyle, Andrei Arlovski, and D.J. Linderman, none of whom were likely to give Johnson’s takedown defense a tough test.
My suspicion is that Davis will succeed in breaking through Johnson’s takedown defense, and if that’s the case, I have to favor Davis to win this fight. His submission game is too good for Johnson to survive on the ground for too long. But if I’m wrong, and Johnson is able to stuff Davis, I don’t trust Davis’s striking to hold up for three rounds against Johnson’s power.
Pick: Phil Davis by submission