Three years after losing his Bellator MMA light heavyweight title, Phil Davis appears to have secured an opportunity to regain it following Friday's victory at Bellator 245.
Davis (22-5, 1 NC) took home a split decision against former UFC champion Lyoto Machida (26-11) in a rematch seven years in the making. The 205-pound main event inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, saw two judges score it 29-28 for Davis while the third had it 29-28 for Machida. CBS Sports also scored the fight 29-28 for Davis.
The third straight win for Davis leaves him as the probable next challenger for Vadim Nemkov's Bellator title which he won by knockout over Ryan Bader in August. Davis lost a split decision against Nemkov in 2018.
Unlike his 2013 victory over Machida, Davis never needed to rely on his ground game during the rematch. In fact, Davis technically never attempted an official takedown over the three rounds, although he nearly scored one by accident in the closing seconds of Round 2 when the two fighters stumbled into the cage wall while clinched.
In order to offset Machida's dangerous counter-striking style, Davis relied on a variety of kicks — including an effective push kick to the body — that constantly gave Machida second thoughts about pulling the trigger.
"To be completely honest, I really learned that technique the first time I had to prepare to fight him," Davis said. "[Machida] was coming off that great knockout against Randy Couture and [I knew] I had to prepare for that. I really don't give guys credit for helping me develop and helping me change."
The 35-year-old Davis appeared to control the first two rounds by doing just enough offensively to keep Machida disarmed. It took Machida, a 42-year-old from Brazil, until the third round to finally get his timing down to counter.
"He was checking [the front kicks] and returning fire to my right leg," Davis said. "I [slowed down] because I just wanted to minimize."
The majority of Machida's offense throughout the fight came in the form of kicks to the legs and body. It may have been just enough to help him steal Round 3, but Machida was rarely ever to strike clean to the head or face of Davis and never appeared to hurt him.
Davis promised that if he gets Nemkov next, the rematch would be just as exciting as their first fight.
"Listen, you thought this fight was close. The [Nemkov fight] was razor thin," Davis said. "He's an amazing fighter, and I'm so proud of him for beating the champion and all of that good stuff, but live it up my friend and I'm coming."