Phil Davis hadn’t previously given much thought to competing at Madison Square Garden. But when he was offered to defend his light heavyweight title at Bellator MMA’s first event in the Big Apple on Saturday, the gravity of the opportunity hit him.
“You mean where Melo plays?” Davis told amNewYork, recalling his reaction to the chance to fight in the same building New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony calls home.
Davis will headline against challenger Ryan Bader on the cable-aired portion of the dual event. Bellator 180 will air on Spike, while Bellator NYC immediately follows on pay-per-view. The PPV main event is a grudge match between aging legends Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen.
Davis (17-3) is 4-0 under the Bellator banner after a lengthy run as a top 205-pounder with the UFC. His final bout in the rival organization was a split decision loss to Bader (22-5), who is making his promotional debut. The pair were a combined 24-8 in the UFC.
Saturday’s fight being for a title means it is scheduled for five rounds, two more than the first meeting in January 2015. Bader, 34, won that bout thanks to superior boxing and takedown defense despite thinking he was “pretty terrible” that night. But Bader believes Davis, 32, won’t be a drastically different fighter Saturday.
“Phil’s gonna be Phil. He does what he does,” Bader told amNY. “He has awkward movement. He’s running away. He doesn’t like to be in that punching distance. He kicks because he doesn’t like to get punched in the face.”
Davis refused to make any excuses for the first matchup against Bader, whom he calls “a great guy.” But the champion also issued a warning.
“You beat me. You got that now,” Davis said. “Now you’ve gotta live with the consequences.”
Both former Division 1 All-American wrestlers, they disagree on Bader’s assertion that Davis has a tough time against wrestlers. The champ prefers to think of those fighters who gave him the toughest matchups “happen to be wrestlers.”
“If that’s what you have to tell yourself to feel like you have a chance,” Davis said, “go right ahead.”