Bellator 231: Phil Davis on Staying Healthy, Tournaments, and Title Runs

Phil Davis vs. Leo Leite
Phil Davis vs. Leo Leite Credit: Mike McClory/Cageside Press

From training smart and staying in shape to not over-thinking game plans, Phil Davis discusses the keys to success in both his career, and in his upcoming Bellator 231 fight against Karl Albrektsson.

When Mr. Wonderful himself, Phil Davis, returns this Friday at Bellator 231, he’ll be looking to make it two wins in a row, and move to 4-1 since losing the promotion’s light heavyweight title to Ryan Bader in 2015. Davis (20-5, 1NC) remains one of the most talented, motivated, and marketable stars in the weight class, inside Bellator MMA or out.

The promotion clearly feels the same. He’ll be heading into Bellator 231 with a new contract, perhaps one of his last. There’s a good chance, Davis told Cageside Press ahead of this weekend’s event, that he finishes out his career with Bellator.

“I think so. I’m with Bellator for the foreseeable future,” Davis told us. “I’m a Bellator guy. That’s what I am.”

It’s easy to forget, because Davis has been so consistent over the years, that he’s been in the game over a decade now. At 35-years old, Phil Davis is one of the elder statesmen in the division. Not old, by any stretch, but a veteran.

Motivations, as a result, change, and “you have to be constantly aware of that, and constantly evolving as a competitor, and changing your motivations and shifting your goals to better and higher things,” Davis said.

The physical side of things has changed “a little bit” as well, Davis admitted. “Right now, I train a little bit smarter than I used to, and I’m able to stay relatively injury free, which is excellent. That’s the name of the game.”

“The longer you can train at a high level, and stay injury free, and train with great guys, the better off you’re going to be,” he continued. “And that’s what I’m able to do. I have some great guys at my gym, and we’re able to push each other to the limit without getting anything broken.”

“Well, nothing seriously broken,” he quipped.

Davis is surrounded by top names at Alliance MMA, but when it comes to staying injury free, for the most part, over a decade-long career, Davis suggested that “it’s a combination of things. There’s no one reason, there’s no ‘take your vitamin E and you’ll never get hurt.’ It’s a combination of things between lifestyle, and just generally taking your training serious, and being persistent with it. I don’t like to get too far out of shape, because I have some of the best fighters in the gym. You come in here out of shape, you will get beat up.”

Title Run

When Phil Davis arrived in Bellator MMA in 2015 from the UFC, he was something of a trendsetter. Many doubted whether Bellator would ever be anything but a distant second to Dana White and co., but Davis was one of the first in a slew of names to cross enemy lines to the rival promotion. Rory MacDonald, Valerie Letourneau, Matt Mitrione, Roy Nelson, Cris Cyborg, and a host of others have jumped ship in the years since.

But Davis made an immediate impact at a key time in the promotion’s history, winning a one-night light heavyweight grand prix, then capturing the promotion’s 205lbs title. The only problem came when he ran up against fellow UFC alum Ryan Bader in Davis’ first title defense. Bader, who had defeated Davis once before in the UFC, beat him again in New York under the Bellator banner.

Another shot at the title is the goal moving forward. “Absolutely. Definitely want to get the belt back,” Davis told us. “Obviously there’s no belt on the line in this fight, so I don’t like to stray too far from the task at hand. But each fight is making a case for the belt. That’s what I want, and we’ll get there.”

While Davis doesn’t want to look too far past his opponent, it’s hard not to ponder the options with double-champ Ryan Bader busy juggling two weight classes. Of late, he’s been focused on heavyweight. An interim belt, Davis admitted, “that’s a possibility. Especially since [Ryan Bader] hasn’t defended in the 205lb division for quite some time. That’s something that maybe, maybe would happen if he, god forbid people get injured or anything like that.”

That is not, to be clear, what Phil Davis wants to happen, however. “I really like the guy, I want him to stay healthy, because I want him to compete. You don’t ever want to wish ill on someone. But if an injury were to happen, that’s maybe an avenue that gets explored.”

That said, Davis isn’t part of the promotional side of things. “I’ll leave that one up to Mr. Coker,” he said in the end.

Karl Albrektsson

“That is not the easiest fight,” Davis answered when asked about his Bellator 231 opponent Karl Albrektsson. The Swedish light heavyweight is on a three-fight win streak, most recently competing for Japan’s RIZIN FF. “You’ve got a young hungry guy, and I love that kind of fight, with a guy who wants to come after you, wants to make a name for himself, and is willing to make this a very interesting fight.”

That said, whatever the Swede brings to the table, Davis isn’t doubting himself. “I believe I’m good enough to fight anybody in the world, and I’m confident enough to do it.”

Just don’t ask him how he expects it to play out. That’s a trap Davis sees too many fighters falling into. “I think a mistake a lot of people make is that they try to decide too much before they get to the cage. And they try to imagine what this guy will do too much before they get in the cage,” he explained.

“The truth of the matter is, I don’t know what this guy is going to do. And he has no idea what I’m going to do,” he continued. “And it’s a huge mistake a lot of times, when people get too far down the road of what exactly will happen. Because if it doesn’t happen, then you’ve maybe over-trained in one area, when you just would have been better off improving your overall game.”

Instead, Davis has been working on his overall game. Ensuring he can secure and work from the positions he does well in. “Making sure I’m the best Phil Davis when I step in the cage. The best Phil Davis beats everyone, so why overthink it.”

Yes, he watches tape, yes, he and his coaches come up with game plans. But as he also pointed out, “chances are this guy has never fought a Division I national champion [wrestler], and chances are he will probably come out with a slightly different strategy then he fought everyone else, because he’s fighting a Division I national champion, one who he knows has the ability to take him down to the ground. Typically that makes a lot of guys very fearful.”

Therefore “you can watch a lot of tape and get a feel for what a guy does, but then he’ll give you a completely different look, because he’s going against me.”

How About Those Tournaments?

When Davis entered Bellator, it was in a one-night grand prix. He hasn’t fought in a tournament since, but they’ve become all the rage under Scott Coker. Heavyweight, Welterweight, and Featherweight Grand Prix tournaments have been held. But light heavyweight has been left out in the cold.

“Two fights in one night, that was pretty exciting,” said Davis. And while he hasn’t done a tournament spread out over a year in MMA, “it’s just a tighter fight schedule, so I guess in essence I have done that before.”

Asked which he’d prefer, if it came up, “I like either one,” Davis answered. “I love the tournament system, it’s bracketed out, you know who you’re going to fight. Less politics, the winner gets the belt, bada bing, that’s what I love.”

So it would interest him, if an interim title was on the line? Or the full title, of course? “Any kind of tournament interests me. I’m in,” Davis finished.

Phil Davis returns to action this Friday, October 25 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The main card airs live on Paramount Network, kicking off at 9PM ET.