What we learned about Phil Davis

February, 1, 2012
2/01/12
6:35
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Dominick CruzEd Mulholland for ESPN.comTake it from the champ: Dominick Cruz knows what it's like to bounce back from an early defeat.
Trivia time, guys. Fighting out of Alliance MMA in San Diego, this fighter began his career a perfect 9-0, quickly earning a title shot against a high profile champion in a premier mixed martial arts organization.

Experience played a vital role in the matchup, as the fighter suffered a fairly one-sided defeat -- the first and only loss of his career to date. Can you name him?

Bet you’re thinking Phil Davis and you are correct -- kind of. There are actually two UFC fighters that fit this exact description. Davis and 135-pound champ Dominick Cruz.

Cruz sailed through the first nine fights of his career, as Davis did, before running into WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber in 2007. It took Faber just 98 seconds to submit Cruz in that fight. Compare his story with what Davis just went though in a five-round decision loss to Rashad Evans and, well, it’s downright eerie.

“It’s definitely parallel to what happened with Dominick,” said Eric Del Fierro, head trainer at Alliance MMA. “He had nine fights and was undefeated when he fought Urijah. He lost.

“Now, see what he’s done. It’s part of the growing process sometimes.”

Davis (9-1) was one of the hottest prospects in MMA heading into Saturday’s UFC on Fox 2 event. After watching him muster very little offense during the course of the 25-minute fight, there are certainly those now saying we overestimated him.

But what did we really learn about Davis from his first loss? That he isn’t the high-ceiling prospect everyone thought he was? Or that he simply just did not have the experience level to compete with a former UFC champion?

Having gone through the exact same situation, Cruz saw the latter.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans and Phil Davis
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comDespite losing nearly every minute of every round, Phil Davis never stopped trying.

“My assessment of this fight was experience,” Cruz said. “This was Phil’s first five-round fight. I remember a very similar situation for myself. I was 9-0 and thrown into a big show. It was a learning experience and it opened my eyes.

“It wasn’t that he got completely owned out there. He lost the critical situations, where you know you can’t give up a takedown in the last 30 seconds of a round when the standup has been close.”

Davis’ boxing coach, Adrian Melendrez, says he learned a few things about Davis in the fight. As someone who works with him on a daily basis, it had nothing to do with where Davis is at regarding technical aspects of his game.

What Melendrez saw was Davis didn’t shy away from the high-pressure atmosphere of a major fight on network television. He noticed Davis was still trying to win in the final round, despite getting shut out in the previous four.

“Things weren’t going his way, but he wanted to win every round,” Melendrez said. “That toughness -- you don’t know if a guy has it until you see him in that situation.”

Four years after falling for the first time to Faber at WEC 26, Cruz avenged the loss with a five-round decision win for the bantamweight title at UFC 132.

Cruz says the taste of defeat, though, lingers in his mouth to this day. He admits he still thinks about the loss sometimes early in the morning, which drives him to wake up and run for miles.

Will last weekend’s experience do the same for Davis? No one knows for sure, but Cruz and the rest of his team certainly think so. As unspectacular of a weekend as it was for Davis, he's still come in a long way in a short period of time, and will only learn from the loss.

“It had been almost a year since he fought [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira and his first fight back is a five-rounder against Rashad. That’s no easy task,” Melendrez said.

“He’s got a long career ahead of him. He has that competitor spirit where you want to win, but almost more importantly, you never want to lose again. I’m still 100 percent confident a UFC title will happen for him.”

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