UFC on Fox 14: Gustafsson vs. Johnson – Idiot’s Guide Preview to Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader

The old saying in prizefighting goes something like, "every great fighter still has one great fight left in him". It's worth amending when it…

By: David Castillo | 8 years ago
UFC on Fox 14: Gustafsson vs. Johnson – Idiot’s Guide Preview to Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

The old saying in prizefighting goes something like, “every great fighter still has one great fight left in him”. It’s worth amending when it comes to prospects; every great prospect still has one great habit worth learning in him, if just for a single night. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it’s a fitting philosophy for two fighters who have simultaneously underachieved, and overachieved.

The Match Up

Light Heavyweight Phil Davis 13-2-1 vs. Ryan Bader 18-4

The Odds

Light Heavyweight Phil Davis -255 vs. Ryan Bader +215

3 Things You Should Know

1. Phil Davis’ last three of 2-1 are misleading not just because due to controversy, but because his performances beg the age old Texas question; ‘is our prospects learning?’

At age 30, we can no longer talk about Phil Davis and his NCAA career in hushed tones. Even his physique is something we no longer admire when compared to the output we want to see from him. Fans and observers talk about Davis like a bust. A number one overall draft pick who didn’t grab the MMA world by the horns like we expected. Except he’s still 9-2-1 in the UFC. Those are excellent numbers, and hardly indicative of more bust than boom.

In addition, his win over Glover Teixeira was dominating. It may not have been the most enjoyable, but it was a comprehensive victory that left no doubt who the better fighter was; against a man who just recently challenged for the title no less. However, his performances still leave observers wondering if he’s skilled enough to make a potential match with Jon Jones interesting.

2. Ryan Bader has earned the right to forget his loss to Tito Ortiz ever happened. With a three fight winning streak already in place, a win over Davis might have us asking some unique questions about his future.

Bader’s problem has never been effort. The question was always a matter of whether the standout wrestler from Arizona State could be cage smart. In sports, decisions are not about calculated analysis. They are about calculated predictions. Bader could never fight with the type of octagon IQ that could have yielded him more success in the past.

The common refrain to this criticism is “but look at his quality of competition!”. Bader has had a very tough schedule to be sure. But losing to a superior opponent doesn’t excuse inferior decisions. Bader has made some inferior decisions even in victory, but the other NCAA veteran will be looking to extend his win streak with increasingly better decisions.

3. This fight could be a nightmare for betting if the judging from the Boston event was any indication.

I keep trying to forget that Cathal decision over Spencer, but I’d rather save brain cells. A lot of the analysts are correct in favoring Bader. Like the Corassani vs. Sicilia fight, this bout is an easy pick if you’re looking to make money. After all, it’s Ryan who has made the stronger adjustments in his career. He’s the one who has complimented his wrestling by developing a strong, respectable striking game. While Bader confined himself to a powerful right hand early, now he’s included strikes in transition, as well as movement into his arsenal. It’s been the defining factor in his improvement.

However, sometimes a difference of degree is still greater than a difference of kind. Bader is by all accounts, the more improved fighter. He’s the more well rounded fighter. And yet I think Phil’s game has translated so well because he’s not just a wrestler; he’s an all out grappler with the type of fluid control that would look other worldly if he could just learn to throw a punch.

It’s not so much about knowing how, as when. Yes, he doesn’t have natural power, but he also lacks timing, not knowing when to commit, or when to conserve. Bader should be able to stay upright early. But I think Phil is crafty enough to work in top control eventually, and just long enough to convince the judges of his victory.


Phil Davis by Split Decision

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David Castillo
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