It’d be hard not hear the echos of Jon Jones vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the main event of this weekend’s upcoming Ultimate Fight Night 24.
When Phil Davis fights Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a light heavyweight contender bout on Saturday night, it will essentially pit a new-breed UFC 205-pounder against an old-line warrior of the bygone Pride days. It also figures to be the biggest test of Davis’ young career – one he took on short notice – and one most observers fully expect him to win.
Indeed, it’s all too easy to draw comparisons here to Jones vs. Rua. It’s also probably unfair to Phil Davis. After just eight professional fights, Davis is already spurring “compare and contrast” pieces between himself and the newly crowned UFC champion. Analysts are lining up to submit the former Penn State wrestler’s name as a guy who might be able to test Jones somewhere down the road. Even Davis agrees those sentiments are premature for a guy who has yet to take on A-list competition in the Octagon.
There’s also a sticky (and fairly obvious) subtext to all these Davis-Jones comparisons. In a sport that continues to struggle with diversity, both guys are African-American and each has been largely defined in print thus far on the basis of his “athleticism.” In one of the more awkward moments in recent memory, Davis even got mistaken for Jones on the street last week, the moment captured in a video that immediately went viral.
Davis himself has essentially pleaded for calm. He knows he’s not quite ready to be fast-forwarded into a title match against the likes of Jones and says he’s in no hurry to make that happen. How he fares this weekend against Nogueira could well tell us just how far away from the big time he currently sits.
Another trait both Davis and Jones share is their creativity inside the cage. While Jones is a whirling dervish of unorthodox strikes and crazy throws, Davis tapped out most recent opponent Tim Boetsch with a never-before-seen variation of a hammerlock, where he used an unconventional grip to snake Boetsch’s arm behind his back and jerk it up toward his shoulder blades. The move was quickly dubbed the Mr. Wonderful (after Davis’ nickname) and he admitted on the mic afterward that he sort of made it up on the fly.
He likely won’t catch Lil’ Nog in any made-up submissions and perhaps it’s the veteran fighter’s resilience that makes him such a compelling matchup for the untested Davis. A few years ago, Nogueira was considered a talent on the level of Shogun – one of his two losses in Pride came against Rua – but so far his UFC career has yet to find its stride.
Nogueira is officially 3-1 in the Octagon (and started things off with an impressive KO of Luiz Cane in his promotional debut) but his split decision win over Jason Brilz at UFC 114 was controversial at best and his subsequent loss to Ryan Bader at UFC 119 effectively showcased his limitations, especially against a high-level wrestler on the order of Davis. Nogueira has also seen a number of proposed fights scratched due to injuries to himself and his opponents, so a nice, consistent-looking win over a highly touted prospect could be just what he needs to return him to relevance in the light heavyweight division.
Unfortunately for Nogueira – and, again, like Jones before him — Daivs will go off as the significant betting favorite against his more experienced opponent this weekend. If he pulls something off in impressive fashion, well, don’t expect to see any fewer comparisons to you-know-who in his near future, fair or not.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.