When I was in Las Vegas covering Ultimate Fighting Championship 109: Relentless, I had the good fortune of being in the audience for Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis' UFC debut. On that night, after a slow start, Davis utterly demolished Brian "All-American" Stann.
Stann's name doesn't have cachet amongst most casual fans of mixed martial arts, but the more hardcore variety (I'm not sure I qualify) knows the dude can scrap.
Not only is he the former World Extreme Cagefighting champion at light heavyweight, he earned a Silver Star while serving as a United States Marine in Iraq. Clearly, toughness is not in short supply for Mr. Stann.
Consequently, Mr. Wonderful's sparkling performance on the way to a unanimous decision was one of UFC 109's most enduring impressions. That was early February.
Shuffle the calendar pages to this weekend's event—UFC 112: Invincible in Abu Dhabi.
The former Penn State Nittany Lion wrestler makes his second appearance in the Octagon at the outdoor extravaganza. He hasn't graduated to the main card quite yet, but a thorough dismantling of Alexander "The Mauler" Gustafsson might propel him to that honor.
The Swede is a virtual unknown, but he sounds like an enormous light heavyweight—standing 6'5" at only 23 years old. He's also undefeated and has finished seven of his nine bouts by knockout.
You never know what the exploitation of competition in the MMA netherworld means, but one KO came in the big fella's UFC debut opposite Jared "Switch" Hamman and took all of 41 seconds.
From where I sit, Gustafsson doesn't appear to be a total chump.
Which means a bone-rattling stoppage might just vault Mr. Wonderful from the under card all the way to Jon "Bones" Jones territory.
Let's be clear about this—Phil Davis has not shown enough to be considered on par with Bones. The latter is younger by three years (22 to Davis' 25 years), taller (6'4" to Davis' 6'2" frame), and has a considerably longer resume that includes more talented fighters than Mr. Wonderful's.
Additionally, Jones has shown that "wow" factor in finishing Brandon "The Truth" Vera and in splattering Mark "The Hammer" Hammill before being disqualified for an illegal elbow.
The native Pennsylvanian has yet to deploy such a weapon.
Nevertheless, Davis shares enough similarities to warrant the comparison...and not simply because both athletes are young black men.
Most obviously (perhaps second-most), Mr. Wonderful has the same wrestling background as Jones.
In fact, the older youngster's pedigree would have to be rated as superior given he was a Division-I NCAA champion at 197 pounds in 2008 while Jones participated at the less rigorous junior college level. Both feats are marks of distinction, but the edge must go to the more elite context i.e. to Davis.
On the contrary, the raw athleticism must go to Bones.
Not only has the light heavyweight prospect demonstrated an exhilarating physical dexterity via in-cage exploits and the ability to absorb new techniques like a sponge, the Jones Family DNA has clearly been steeped in athletically gifted waters. Both of his brothers are D-I college football players for the Syracuse Orange and one (Arthur) made the All-Big East first team as a defensive lineman.
Or you can take his 84-inch reach as conclusive evidence of his exceptional natural assets.
However, Davis is not defenseless in this area.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt has shown a similar ability to quickly learn and assimilate new technical information. After winning the NCAA title in 2008, he moved on and took the 2009 No Gi World Jiu-Jitsu Championship at super heavyweight for blue belts.
In his debut against Stann, Davis' striking was pedestrian, but he moved gracefully and efficiently once on the ground. He demonstrated good balance and control while effectively abusing his rugged antagonist.
So more modest versions of Bones' tools are there.
Phil Davis will need to polish them—especially his stand-up—and take out some bigger profiles in the division before the comparison to Jon Jones is truly warranted. But the foundation has already been laid and acknowledged.
At UFC 112: Invincible, Mr. Wonderful gets his first chance to take the next step.
And it should be a doozie.