Every now and then, Joe Davis will try to wrestle a few rounds with his son, Phil.
It doesn’t take long for Phil to let his father know who’s the boss on the mat.
Phil’s 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame of solid muscle isn’t anything to play around with.
“It’s like grabbing Superman,” Joe Davis said. “The boy is hard, from his ankles to the top of his head.”
Davis, the 2008 197-pound national champion with the Nittany Lions, has moved on from his wrestling career and has emerged as one of the most promising young stars in Mixed Martial Arts.
Since signing a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Dec. of 2009, Davis has gone 9-0 as a light heavyweight.
In his most recent fight at the UFC Fight Night 24 on March 26, Davis defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a three-round unanimous decision, propelling him into the top-10 of MMAweekly.com’s light heavyweight weekly rankings.
On a training regiment that has him working on a variety of different fighting styles two or three times a day, six days a week, Davis’ father credits his son’s work ethic to his early MMA success.
“There’s a lot of physical involvement that goes along with those skills,” Joe Davis said. “You have to be willing to put in the time because it’s hard work.”
Though he was thrilled to come away with the victory over Nogueira, Davis said he was upset the prime time fight caused him to miss another event he’d been anticipating — his alma mater going for an NCAA wrestling championship in Philadelphia.
The UFC asked Davis to take on Nogueira just four weeks before the fight was scheduled.
Though he planned to be there in the Wells Fargo Center on March 19 to see the Nittany Lions capture their first NCAA title since 1953, Davis was forced to watch on television from his home in San Diego.
“I wanted to be there so bad,” Davis said. “But it ended up that I had to take a fight again on short notice. Bada bing bada bang, I can’t see my team win a national championship in Philadelphia. I was really upset about that.’
A four-time All-American during his time at Penn State, Davis said that his experience as a Division-I wrestler has helped him get to where he is now.
Eric Del Fierro, Davis’ trainer at the Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista, Ca., added Davis had an edge over other fighters when he started as an MMA fighter because his wrestling experience had made him a tremendous athlete.
“My wrestling career made all the difference,” Davis said. “If I wasn’t a Penn State wrestler I don’t know what my career would look like right now. I have to use my wrestling skills to pull out wins, so I’m grateful that I went to Penn State and grateful that I had a chance to win a national championship.”
Del Fierro met Davis through fellow UFC star Dominick Cruz, who also trains at Alliance Gym. The trainer said Davis has been progressing well, and is focusing on improving his striking skills to compliment his wrestling background.
Davis has been competing in the UFC for just more than a year, having fought in just two other fights before signing his professional contract.
DelFierro said Davis’ swift rise to national prominence in MMA is just a preview of what the former Nittany Lion can achieve.
“He’s a legitimate athlete,” DelFierro said. “The kid is tough as nails. He trains hard and he’s a constant learner. Being in the big leagues, there’s a constant pressure to stay active, to stay busy and keep fighting. So he’s a work in progress and he’s nowhere near his full potential.”
His victory over Nogueira, who many consider to be one of the world’s best light heavyweights, has many talking about Davis possibly getting a chance at dethroning the UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones.
Trying to remain focused on improving his skills, Davis said he is waiting for UFC President Dana White to decide what’s next for him.
But those close to Davis know the sky is the limit is for the 26-year old budding star.
“He’s just getting on board right now,” Joe Davis said of his son. “He has a lot of catching up to do and he knows it. He talks about honing his skills, how he needs to perfect some of his skills. But the boy has talent. There’s no two ways about it.”