White, who was just about to wrap up a media session, suddenly sat forward in his chair. Clearly, he had something to say on this one.
“I like Phil and I don’t want to throw Phil under the bus,” White said, “but Phil needs to get over that mental hump.
“I’ve got guys breathing down my neck for fights, like, ‘I want this fight. I want that fight.’ Phil Davis is like, ‘Eh. I’ll hang out around No. 4 here.’ He’s not that guy that comes across to me like, ‘I f---ing want it. I want to be the best in the world.’”
Davis (12-1) spoke to several media outlets that same day, including ESPN.com, but his best opportunity to answer White’s claim came on Monday during a global media call. He certainly didn’t waste the airtime.
A former Division I NCAA wrestling champion at Penn State, Davis went to work on light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who also happened to be on Monday’s call. He barely uttered a word about Johnson (16-4).
Some of it was strong (calling Jones “Sweetheart”). Some of it was not (saying Jones got hit in the eye so much in his last fight he almost “turned into a pirate”).
The best moment came when Jones, who played along for the most part, asked Davis which rounds Alexander Gustafsson won in their narrow title fight in September.
Davis: I thought he won all the ones where he put those hot hands all over your forehead.
Jones: Oh man. That’s not nice, Phil.
The realest thing that came out of Davis’ mouth on the call? Probably the first thing he said, when he basically warned everyone listening he was about to go off and -- if you read between the lines -- admitted he’s maybe not too happy about it.
“I try to let my fighting do the talking, but I’m going to have to let my talking do the talking for a little bit,” Davis said. “If you want Phil Davis calling and your texting your phone every day, telling you he wants to fight Jon Jones, that’s fine.
“I thought that just winning would get that done, but that’s not necessarily true.”
It’s pretty obvious Davis read White’s message to him loud and clear: Get people interested. As many fighters before Davis have learned, it’s not always strictly about wins and losses. Sometimes you have to talk.
This is why Davis is practicing his stand-up routine, interrupting one reporter on Monday’s call to ask Jones how he would overcome his fear of fighting (did he buy a night light?).
A win, however, is still the most crucial piece to Davis’ title aspirations -- which he does have, regardless of what White says. Secretly, he understands he’s facing a dangerous opponent in Johnson, who has four knockouts in his last five fights.
Davis has been in a similar position to this before. In 2012, a 5-0 start in the UFC had him closing in on a title shot -- until he lost badly to Rashad Evans via unanimous decision. To this day, Davis says he can’t bring himself to watch that fight.
“I watched halfway through the first round and turned it off,” Davis told ESPN.com. “I couldn’t even watch. I was so pissed. I still haven’t seen it.
“I can barely compare who I was in 2012 to the fighter I am now. It’s just so much different. It’s going to take at least two Rashad Evans in the cage at the same time to beat me right now.”
At the request of his boss, Davis is turning up the chatter ahead of his fight in Baltimore. So far, he’s seemed only halfway comfortable with it. It’s still the actual fight on Saturday where Davis will be most comfortable.