Bellator 297’s Phil Davis on Ngannou Move: MMA Progresses “Because of People Like Francis”


Bellator 297 light heavyweight and former champ Phil Davis (24-6, 1NC) knows a thing or two about free agency.

“Mr. Wonderful” was arguably ahead of the curve when he moved from the UFC to Bellator MMA in 2015, part of a trend that would see fellow 205’ers Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida, and Corey Anderson follow suit.

In more recent times, the landscape for free agency in MMA has become more than just a two-horse race. In addition to dominant force UFC and rival Bellator, the PFL, and ONE Championship, not to mention non-MMA entities like BKFC have provided a multitude of options for fighters looking to be paid their worth.

We asked Davis whether the free agent market was healthier today that it was back when he opted to pursue free agency, in a recent exclusive interview.

“I definitely believe so. I definitely believe so. In 2015, Bellator was the only other place that could pay you bigger money than the UFC,” Davis noted. “And now, there’s a couple other homes. I’m glad, I’m so glad that there’s more opportunities for guys to make money, and to get great fights also. Not just make money to fight nobodies. There’s great guys in several different companies. So I love it. I think it’s much better, and I’m glad more people are exploring free agency.”

The catalyst for this question was the recent move by now-former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, by far the biggest name to split from that promotion in years. Ngannou not only jumped ship, much like Davis years ago, but did so as a reigning champion, eventually signing with the PFL — and negotiating a two million dollar purse for his first opponent.

That came as a surprise to many, but Davis is more thankful than anything.

“Was I surprised? I don’t know if I was surprised more than I was thankful that people are just being aware. He [Ngannou] is now paving the way not just for himself but for other people, and I just cannot say enough how thankful I am that there’s people like that, that keep it in mind that the sport has to progress. And it progresses because of people like Francis.”

A rising tide lifts all ships, as the saying goes — though time will tell if Ngannou’s move does have a trickle-down effect in MMA. In the meantime, Davis has Corey Anderson to contend with at Bellator 297. It’s a fight many have been expecting to happen since Anderson left the UFC to join Davis in Bellator, a fight Davis himself believed would happen eventually.

“Absolutely. He’s a great fighter. I loved his career over in the UFC, and he’s been doing great for Bellator,” said Davis. “So this is a match-up I definitely wanted.”

Two talented wrestlers coming together can often lead to a stand-up battle, but Davis isn’t painting himself into a corner. “I don’t like to dictate necessarily where the fight will take place. I’ll see every opportunity that I think is there, and I’ll go for it. I don’t think he’s impossible to take down. I think everybody is very capable of being taken down.”

Most are looking at Davis vs. Anderson as a possible title eliminator, especially with light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov fighting Yoel Romero the same night. Davis has faced both men before, and doesn’t have a preference as to who he fights should things go his way in Chicago on June 16.

“It’s a rematch either way. I’m good, I’m good,” Davis said. “Either way, rematches are weird fights. Rematches are weird fights for both the winner and the loser, because you do things that you don’t normally do to try to catch the guy off guard. So I suspect both of those fights would be very interesting fights. I want them both.”

There’s an outside chance neither man holds gold moving forward, however. In an earlier interview with Cageside Press, Nemkov suggested that he could move to heavyweight, adding that such a move would be permanent.

“I guess [the division’s] up for grabs,” replied Davis when informed of the comments, explaining that he never makes a plan in terms of future fights, “because you just don’t know. And this is exactly what I mean. You just don’t know what’s going on.”

Davis believes that Nemkov is the type of fighter who can succeed in any promotion at any weight class, calling the move an interesting one. As for it’s impact on 205, “whoever’s around will have to contend for the title,” finished Davis, “and I’ll be there.”

Watch our full interview with Bellator 297’s Phil Davis above. Davis faces Cory Anderson at the event at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL on June 16, 2023.


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