Fighting still on his mind and he will remain ‘ready’ for the call but Davis is taking nothing for granted in lockdown with his young family
Synonymous throughout his fighting career with the nickname ‘Mr Wonderful’, Harrisburg’s Phil Davis has adopted a new moniker during lockdown: ‘Mr Sensible’.
The 35-year-old former Bellator light-heavyweight champion admits the last eight weeks spent cut off from the world have been difficult but has tried to the best of his ability to take some positives from the experience. Father to two boys – one eight, the other three – Davis has, like so many, been forced to reconnect, go back to basics and focus on the important things in life.
“It’s been difficult, no doubt,” he said. “But there’s definitely lots of positives to take from it, like spending time with my family. Back in the day my father and mother would pull the old, ‘No TV or telephone, just us hanging out.’ I get it now. It makes a big difference to spend that uninterrupted family time together. I’m very thankful I get to spend this time getting to know my little people – my family, my wife – and spending a lot of time having weird conversations that wouldn’t normally come up.”
As a professional fighter, Davis relies on competing in order to bring in money and can do nothing about the fact that due to the Covid-19 pandemic such opportunities have been momentarily taken away from him. His last fight, a third-round stoppage win over Karl Albrektsson, took place in October at Bellator 231 and he has so far been unable to make his mark in 2020.
“They keep me on late September or late October for the fall and for the Spring it’s pretty much May. That’s been my rhythm with Bellator,” he said. “It stinks it won’t happen during that time. But I’m really impressed with the company’s response to this and the pandemic and the times. I’m humbled by their approach and precaution. More than anything, I’m grateful.
“Each decision I make during this time is in full view of everything I have going on at home. You really can’t make these decisions in a vacuum. You’ve got to search out your peace right. Find that calmness. I’m now Mr Sensible, and Mr Wonderful – one and the same.”
Of course, there is every chance the lines between ‘Mr Sensible’, the man doing the right thing, and ‘Mr Wonderful’, the working man, the man never more alive than when fighting, will at some point in the coming weeks become blurred once professional sports try to get up and running again.
Indeed, the UFC, Davis’ old employer, have already set out their stall, staging three events during the pandemic, and Davis, monitoring the UFC’s movements with interest, concedes he would participate in an event if asked to do so, even if it not his preference.
“Yes, yes I would,” he said. “At the very basic level, if you have a fight the first weekend outside of quarantine that typically means you’ve been training the whole time. It means you haven’t been quarantined. It’s very hard to train for a title fight without the help of somebody else. It probably means you’re training with a number of people.
“I think of my habits when I’m training for a fight and I visit a lot of places. I’m extremely active. It opens you up, it opens up your family and it opens up someone you know getting sick. But at the same time if you said Phil, ‘Would you have done it?’ Yeah, probably. It’s one of these things where there are political and moral debates, but you also know if you were in that position, you might go against your conscience. I don’t fault anyone for fighting or say it wasn’t a good idea. I get it. But would I have liked to? Probably not.”
With talk of Bellator shows at CBS in LA in July or August, Davis is remaining alert and ready to respond to any call. He has also thought about how he will make the transition from his family home to the fight arena and back again.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be ready. I would love to be on one of those cards and they know that. I think I’m one of their go-to guys. I think they’re saying tentatively July through August you’re going up. If they want to throw me up, I’m here.
“These are conversations I’ve already had. I’ve made plans. Tentatively what I plan to do is whatever happens with the fight, I will find a place where I can quarantine myself before coming back to the family. I may get tested pre-fight and post-fight and then I have to get on a plane and travel home. And that’s probably more dangerous than the other. No matter what you do, you’re kind of back where you started. You can only really look after your body and do the best you can to protect yourself.”
It is far from ideal, of course, to have to prepare for prospective fight dates without full use of gyms and access to training partners and sparring partners. However, there are ways around the issue and Davis, seemingly liberated by the calm this period of quarantine has brought, has still managed to make the past two months a productive time in terms of training. The key, he believes, is to appreciate the smaller things.
“Most of this quarantine I’ve been doing a nice three, three-and-a-half-mile loop around my neighbourhood,” he said. “I like to wait until 8.30 or 9pm to go out as that way I don’t have to share the sidewalk with strollers.
“I concentrate on my time trial. I concentrate on really getting in tune with my body. I concentrate on marking places throughout my run – like, this is the place where I usually lose my mental focus and my mile time begins to slow down, and being able to push that point out another half mile. Or this is the part of the hill where I start to get tired and slow down? Being able to run that so frequently that I can push that place up the hill another ten sidewalk squares or 15, until my time is faster. To be able to appreciate such small things isn’t something you get when you’re not in quarantine. I’ve tried to get that same level of intentionality throughout and appreciate the smallest details.”
Many have called this current pandemic a ‘leveller’, suggesting it is both an event beyond human control and one that offers a timely reminder of what it means to be human. It has, without a doubt, shifted our perspective somewhat and shone a light on what is important. It has offered us all a period for reflection.
Davis, very much a thinking man’s fighter, has not let the opportunity go to waste.
“I’ve reflected and changed my outlook on a couple of things, but not so much on fighting,” he said. “Fighting is still something I do and love to do, and it’s not something I take for granted. We’ve learned through this pandemic what we take for granted, but fighting wasn’t one of those things.
“There is so much to be thankful for. Even though this is a tough time, I still have more than I deserve and enough food for my family. That type of security is not to be undervalued. My heart goes out to everyone who doesn’t have those things and the security of shelter and food. I pray for them and my children pray for them before every meal because it’s just not something everybody has and it’s not to be taken for granted.” Fine sentiments from one of the gentleman fighters of MMA.
In a time of countless voices offering contradictory statements, all shouting over each other to be heard, one of the few voices of reason belongs to Phil Davis, a fighter known in the cage as ‘Mr Wonderful’ but these days better known as ‘Mr Sensible’, a family man.