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Different worlds collide for Phil Davis ahead of Bellator 276

phil-davis

Phil Davis has not worn championship gold since 2017. That could begin to change if he defeats Julius Anglickas this Saturday at Bellator 276.

Bellator's reigning light heavyweight champ is Vadim Nemkov, who is responsible for a third of the losses Davis has suffered. Amidst the chaos of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is no guarantee that Nemkov will defend the belt at Bellator 277, where he's currently scheduled to fight Corey Anderson. In the event that Nemkov does not fight and Anderson is in need of a new dance partner, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Davis steps in against Anderson for an interim title bout.

"I haven't thought that far ahead," says Davis, who has won four of his past five. "There are so many things I can't control, so I'm focusing on the areas I can control. My job is to beat the guy that's in front of me. It doesn't change much of what I'm going to do—keep my head down, work hard, and get past Julius."

A perennial contender, Davis has been fighting professionally for the past 14 years. He had a successful run in UFC, winning nine of 12 contests with one no-contest. Since jumping to Bellator in 2015, Davis had a run as light heavyweight champ. He has also never been finished in Bellator, with his only losses coming by decision. The core element of all his achievements in MMA stems from the perseverance learned in amateur wrestling, in which he was a four-time Division I All-American as an undergrad at Penn State.

"I'm really thankful to have my wrestling background," Davis says. "A good wrestler doesn't need to be 100 percent accurate of takedowns. The key is the relentlessness. That relentless assault, that's what wrestling is all about."

Davis is a wrestler in the truest form, which makes him a different breed of mixed martial artist. He also brings that same unrelenting approach into his everyday life, where he has his real estate license, a penchant for stock trading and a beer with his face adorning it in a craft brewery, not to mention his own deli, Hungry Hank's, in Chula Vista, Calif.

Though the two seem to be entirely different entities, Davis shared that the fight realm and the sandwich world share more similarities than people imagine.

"Restaurants have so little margin for error, especially in the current climate," says Davis, who co-runs the deli with his wife. "Prices of items and ingredients fluctuate so wildly. At one point, bacon was so expensive. At another point, you couldn't get a whole chicken in the state of California. That was crazy. Right now, avocados are off the charts. It's this perpetual state of crisis. What kind of crisis are you going to deal with today?"

That nonstop pressure and intensity mirror the same type of environment where Davis thrives while competing in the cage. That was on full display last September against Yoel Romero, a bout Davis won by split decision.

"In both places, it's all about being prepared," Davis says. "I was prepared for him and I knew he was coming at me with an incredibly heavy left hand, but he still caught me off-guard with how fast and explosive he was. So there will be things that catch you off-guard, but I trained the right way. I really honed my skills and was as sharp as I could be. That was a dangerous fight, so I needed to be prepared for any type of chaos or crisis."

Now Davis (23-6 MMA, 10-3 BMMA) is focused on Bellator 276, where he meets Anglickas (10-2 MMA, 3-1 BMMA), who is ranked fourth in the division. This is a fight Davis expected to win, but he refuses to underestimate his opponent.

"Anytime I have a fight like this, I remind myself how I felt when I was younger or lower-ranked than my opponent," Davis says. "Those were my opportunities for bigger fights and bigger paydays.

"Julius is tough and coming up. And it's important to remember that even if you think you're better, whoever wants it more is the one who will win. I'm preparing, staying hungry and I'll be ready to go on Saturday."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.