Spending just a little time around the guys from UFC, you quickly understand that mixed martial arts – and combat sports in general – are not quite set up the same way as your "traditional" sports.
If the Orioles want to play in the World Series, they need to make it to the postseason and then win at least two playoff series. They can't just make a bunch of jokes about the Cardinals and expect to see them in the Fall Classic.
UFC is set up in a way to showcase the best fighters, of course. But, like boxing, sometimes cards get designed based on what the fans want to see – or, more accurately, what will draw pay-per-view dollars.
That’s precisely why Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis was the loudest of the four fighters at Thursday’s UFC 172 media event inside the Warehouse at Camden Yards.
UFC president Dana White had been critical of Davis for not being vocal enough about his ambition for a shot at the light-heavyweight title. So, Davis responded by doing everything he could to drum up controversy between himself – the No. 4 contender in that weight class – and champion Jon Jones.
It didn’t matter that Jones is scheduled to defend his belt against Glover Teixeira in Saturday night's main event at Baltimore Arena, and that Davis’ bout Saturday night is against Anthony Johnson.
Davis called Jones a chicken. He called him a “cowardly lion.” He repeatedly said that Jones would be too scared to face him and that the only scenario where that would happen is in a video game.
“He’s a chicken, sir,” Davis responded to a reporter asking about a potential Jones-Davis bout. “Have you ever enjoyed a delicious chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A? … It’s very similar in texture to Jon Jones.”
Obviously Davis – a four-time All-American wrestler at Penn State – was saying this all for a reason. Any perceived feud between him and Jones would increase the chances of him getting a title shot if Jones successfully defends his belt against Teixeira.
For his part, Jones wasn’t taking the bait.
“It’s hard to take him seriously,” Jones said. “I don’t take him seriously. I look at him as like a nagging cousin just pulling on my shirt.”
Davis acknowledged at one point that the game played on media day is very different from the competition that takes place within the Octagon.
“It’s completely separate,” he said in a rare moment that seemed serious. “When I get in there, it’s all sport and no talk.”
When apprised of Davis’ trash talk later Thursday, White didn’t sound sold that it translated into a real desire to be the best fighter in his weight class.
As the promoter of MMA’s most visible company, White wants contenders like Davis beating down his door for a title shot, which is what spurred his initial criticism. (Of course it also doesn't hurt if his fighters make headlines with colorful interviews.)
“The guys that really want [expletive], they ask for [expletive],” White said in his normally colorful manner. He also made it clear that Davis isn't next in line for a shot at Jones, regardless of what he says.
These are all elements you don’t see in your traditional "ball and stick" sports, as White called them. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t lash out at the Ravens for going 8-8 and saying they should have wanted it more in 2013.
But where MMA differs from, say, professional wrestling, is that Davis will get in the cage with another dangerous fighter Saturday night. And that opponent, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, is going to want to send a message of his own in his first UFC fight in more than two years.
“He can’t afford to make this not an exciting fight,” Davis said of Johnson. “This, for him, has to be his ‘I’m back, look what I can do against the top guys in UFC’ [fight]. So he’s coming strong. My job is just to say, ‘Nope, not tonight.’”