Despite his close loss to Rashad Evans at last Saturday's UFC on Fox2 event, light heavyweight contender Phil Davis continues to show why he has the potential to one day hold an Ultimate Fighting Championship belt.
Indeed, Davis just needs more experience, but he has shown that he can use his phenomenal wrestling skills to grind out victories, to apply submissions using solid technique (as he did against Alexander Gustafsson) or even to tap out an opponent through sheer power (as he did against Tim Boetsch). He has beaten big names like Brian Stann and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. For that, the former Penn State national champion lands in the No. 1 spot for the light heavyweight division of ESPN Insider's new "Future Contenders" list.
"Future Contenders" will focus on fighters in every weight class who have the best chance to work their way into a title shot in the future. Eligible fighters are those who:
1. Have not held a UFC belt in the weight class
2. Have not previously fought for a title in the weight class
Fighters need not currently be in the UFC to qualify, but as is the case for Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, they must be active fighters and not under suspension. Also, holding a title or having fought for a title in another fight league does not disqualify a fighter from "Future Contenders."
"Rashad is the true No. 1 contender," Davis says. "But if I beat him, who else is there for me to fight other than the champion?"
Right now, that champion is Jon Jones, who has been dominant in recent wins. The law of averages dictates he will lose at some point. But to whom? Perhaps it will be Davis one day or one of the following fighters:
2. Alexander Gustafsson (13-1), UFC
This one is all about potential. The 6-foot-5 Swede is only getting better, and being teammates with Davis at Alliance MMA in San Diego can only help. Gustafsson, whose only loss came at Davis' hands in April 2010, has reeled off four straight stoppage victories, with visible improvement each time. Gustafsson has gone the distance just once and has nine knockouts among his 13 victories. As Davis did last March, Gustafsson will face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (on April 14), which will serve as a stiff test to prove whether Gustafsson is ready to be considered a contender. Having just turned 25, his relative youth allows for continued development. But there is no question he has the length and power to be considered as a bona fide threat to Jones.