Going into UFC 172, folks were only anticipating the return of Anthony Johnson, but did not know what to expect. On the other hand, Phil Davis had climbed all the way to fourth in the light heavyweight division and was on a respectable run after his loss to Rashad Evans. Even more interestingly, Davis was the betting favorite, which should be a surprise to most educated MMA fans given both fighters skills set.
Even though Davis’ wrestling and BJJ skills are highly touted, his striking has been an issue for quite some time. Johnson is an absolute beast at 205 and was stuffing Davis’ takedowns flawlessly. He proved to have great takedown defense and his striking is just on a whole different level in comparison to Davis. This fight was a lot more equal going into the bout than people think,and Johnson proved his striking and wrestling were good enough to get the decision victory over Davis.
The most interesting aspect about this fight is how it changed the trajectory of both fighters’ careers. Phil Davis was easily one fight away from getting back into the title picture and Anthony Johnson was just hoping for a solid UFC return. Phil Davis fell from fourth in the division to seventh, while Johnson shot all the way to fifth from 14th. There has not been a jump of this caliber in quite some time, and it looks like Johnson has made a successful comeback to the UFC.
So, what’s next for Davis? First and foremost, Davis needs a better stand up game. He was not very good against Lyoto Machida, and was simply outclassed against Johnson. The top of the light heavyweight division is packed with solid strikers, which puts Davis at a huge disadvantage going into any of those fights. In his defense, Davis is one of the only fighters to defeat Alexander Gustafsson and has only lost to Rashad Evans and Johnson. He has never been finished and displayed a great chin in his last few bouts. With that said, fighting Mauricio Rua might be the most interesting fight for both fighters and the UFC. Rua and Davis are coming off tough losses and will be looking to move up in the division. Stylistically, this would be a grueling battle and should be a great showcase for the fans. The UFC has limited choices for either fighter and these are two big names who can headline a card. With that said, this an obvious choice for the next big fight in the light heavyweight division.
Moving on to Johnson, the options were wide open but the UFC settled on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for UFC on Fox San Jose. To mention a few more appealing bouts, Glover Teixeira just lost to Jon Jones and that would be an absolute gem of a fight given both fighters’ abilities. A rematch with Vitor Belfort could have also be an option, as the Brazilian makes his transition off TRT. Belfort was cleared to fight in Brazil and has stated he feels good after stopping the substance. While both these bouts may be have been more exciting, Johnson will have the opportunity to fight a true legend in Nogueira.
Both fighters have good striking and “Little Nog” is coming off two wins against Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans. However, he has not fought since February of 2013 and it will be intriguing to see if Nogueira can keep up with Johnson. Without a doubt, this will be a striking battle unless Nogueira tries to take it to the ground. Johnson has extremely good takedown defense and was able to stop an elite wrestler, which puts Nogueira at a huge disadvantage going into this fight. In any case, Johnson and Nogueira should put on a great show nonetheless, but it will be interesting to see where “Rumble” goes from here.