Q&A: Phil Davis returns to Penn State to make a statement and set up Bellator title shot

Phil Davis, 17-4 (1 NC), returns to Penn State University this Friday (November 3) when he fights Leo Leite at Bellator 186.

It was during his time at Penn State that Davis won the NCAA 197lb title in 2008 and rose to prominence as a four-time NCAA Division 1 All-American. He ended his illustrious wrestling career with a record of 116-15.

Now a nine-year MMA pro, Davis, a former Bellator light-heavyweight champion, answered the questions of Fighters Only contributor Tony Reid ahead of his return to Penn State.


Question: What are your thoughts on the dangers Leo Leite presents and how do you see the fight going down?

Phil Davis: He is a good opponent. He comes in with an unblemished record. I love that. That means he is going to bring the fight to me. He’s not going to try to squeak out a close fight. He is willing to get in there and go hard on the big stage to show what he’s got. He hasn’t fought the top competition like I have. This is his chance to show that he belongs. I remember exactly what that’s like. This will be a fun experience. I like his game but I also like my game. I think I bring a unique skill set to the cage. He is going to have to adjust to me.

Q: You are a legend in these parts. You captured an NCAA National Championship at 197 pounds in 2008. Being from Harrisburg, which is only about an hour away from campus, what kind of turnout are you expecting from friends, family and fans?

PD: Oh, absolutely. I know a lot of my friends and fans and former teammates will be in attendance. That will be great. And then just being a Penn Stater, being back to compete, I looked on my Instagram and Facebook and a lot of the current students are saying they just bought tickets, so they are looking forward to the event, too. It’s going to be a great event.

Q: What do you miss most about college and State College?

PD: I miss that atmosphere. It’s such a great atmosphere. What do I miss most about college? It was the least amount of responsibility with the most freedom I have ever had. There is no way to know it or appreciate it at the moment. Now I have all the freedom in the world. I can go wherever I want and do whatever I want but now I have so much more responsibility. It’s not at all the same.

Q: You are sharing the card with another special wrestler and fighter: fellow Penn State national champ and close friend Ed Ruth. Ed sees you as a huge influence and role model. How special is it to share this night with him?

PD: Ed is just the best dude ever, man. He is like my little brother. I have known him for years and years. We are both from Harrisburg. Wrestling is already a small circle. Two black wrestlers from Harrisburg, man, you are as close as can be! He and I have a special bond. I have always wondered what it would be like if Ed and I could have been on the same team. We would have been dynamite. He would wrestle at (1)84 and I would have wrestled at (1)97. It would have been awesome. Now this will be the closet we ever get to having back to back wrestling matches.

One of my favorite wrestling memories was when my brother and I were wrestling in a tournament and he and I were on mats that were right next to each other. We got back to back pins. Literally, I slammed the guy and he slammed his guy and we were right next to each other. The refs blew the whistle just seconds from each other. It was like, ‘Hey, I see what you did there.’ It was so cool. I would love to have one of those experiences with Ed as well. We both go out and have memorable performances that we talk about for years to come.

Q: You are such a positive influence for Ed. Who are the people that inspire you?

PD: My parents are really good about supporting me in everything I do. After I won the national championship in wrestling, everyone would call me the champ: you know, ‘This is Phil Davis, National Champion,’ and I would introduce my parents and say, ‘These are my parents. They are national champion parents. They won a Division 1 National Title this year.’ That was because they helped me get there.

Q: Can you give us a story from back in the early fighting days?

PD: Those fighting days were much like the early UFC days. They were very primitive and unsanctioned. A lot of bare knuckles, a chair here and there, small joint manipulation, whatever needed to happen.

Q: You have history with the current Bellator light-heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, who headlines Friday’s event. What are your thoughts on the scrap between Bader and Linton Vassell and the possibility of the winner of that fight being a future opponent?

PD: It’s about making a statement in my fight. It’s always great when you fight on a card headlined by a title fight in your weight class. Fans make the quick connection: ‘This guy just had a great performance and that guy had a great performance. They should be fighting next. That is what we want.’

Q: Not only that, if you get the win there is a pretty good chance Jimmy Smith will put a microphone near your face and you can ask for just that. Have you thought about that conversation?

PD: Oh, yeah. There is a good chance of that happening!