If you asked Marcus Davis in 2005 if he thought that he would be still fighting at the age of 37, he would have laughed at you. If you asked him the same question 20 years ago, he may have said that the only cage he’d likely be in would be one with bars.
But today’s version of Davis bears little resemblance to the one that roamed the streets of Maine, directionless, the product of a harrowing upbringing that he vowed not to repeat for his own children. Quick with a smile, a joke, or a side-splitting story from his past, Davis has mellowed everywhere except in the gym and the UFC’s Octagon, and even as he approaches his 40th birthday, he hasn’t put a time limit on his fighting career.
“I definitely did not think that I was gonna be 37 years old and fighting in the UFC,” he said. “And I’ve always been doing that thing where I put time limits on everything, but now I’m just gonna look at it like I’m gonna keep fighting while I’m healthy. As long as I’m healthy and I can compete and I can do this, why put limitations on it? And that’s where I’m at right now. I pray that I can keep doing this for another couple years and if God sees it through and that’s his plan and that’s my plan, then I’m gonna do it.”
If his May knockout of Jonathan Goulet is indicative of where he’s at right now, then there is obviously still some firepower left in the “Irish Hand Grenade”, which is a good thing, considering that he has a fight coming up this weekend against young gun Nate Diaz. But before the win over Goulet at UFC 113, Davis was on the first two fight skid of his UFC career, losing a decision to heated rival Dan Hardy and then getting knocked out for the first time ever by Ben Saunders. Both bouts came in the midst of a rough time in his life, and it carried over into all aspects of his fight career.
“I was dealing with a lot of personal issues going into the Dan Hardy fight and then the Dan Hardy fight itself poured into my personal life and it just got worse,” said Davis. “Then I carried it into the Saunders fight, I didn’t take it serious, I had all this other stuff that I was dealing with, and then after the Saunders fight, in December I just stopped. I literally said ‘I’ve got to get my life in order.’ I’m going crazy and I basically took a sabbatical.”
With his fiancé and kids in tow, Davis hit Puerto Vallarta for eight days. He returned home to Maine for two days and then left for 18 days alone in Ireland. After that trip, there was some one on one time with his fiancé, and then it was back to the gym as a new man.
“I was focused, I got my life straightened out, and re-assessed what my long-term and short-term goals were gonna be,” said Davis, who also began writing his autobiography, which he expects to be out in early 2011.
“It’s been like therapy for me,” he said of the book. “Bringing everything up, and sitting down and writing out timelines and remembering where I came from and how I got here is just crazy. People are going to read my biography and they’re not going to believe all this stuff happened.”
But it did, and considering that he turned his life around, he’s able to look back at the things that happened to him in his life with a knowing glance, aware that it was all those experiences, good and bad, that eventually made him who he is today.
“Everybody has things in their life that they regret doing, but I don’t hold on to that regret,” he said. “The bad choices that I made when I was a kid, I’ve asked God for forgiveness. I’ve met, called, and emailed people that I may have wronged as a kid and apologized again for it. And I actually made a list of male role models who have been in my life, because I didn’t have a father, and who have affected me in a positive way, and I contacted all of them and told them that I just needed them to know that they had some kind of influence on me in a good way, and I remember that and I appreciate that. It’s really turned me into a different person. When I look back on the road I traveled, I laugh a lot and say ‘how are you even alive?’ I just don’t get it. But it proves to me that there is a God out there and that there is a plan. And no matter what I do in this sport, in my career, or in life, if my kids don’t end up doing better than what I do, then I failed. My job on this earth is to make sure that they do better than their father has. I want to set that bar high and make sure that they beat it.”
He then tells a story of how he lived in a barn before getting his big MMA break as a member of the cast of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter.
“That was 2004,” said the father of four. “Flash forward six years. My kids are all in private school, my daughter just graduated college and she didn’t take out one loan because daddy was able to pay it, I own two big gyms that are doing well, and I’ve got a great life. I’ve traveled to Ireland five times, I’ve been all over the world, and it’s just crazy.”
It sounds like a man at peace, but don’t let that fool prospective opponents, because Davis hasn’t lost his fighting edge just yet.
“I have an alter ego and that alter ego is the “Irish Hand Grenade”, and the “Irish Hand Grenade” is all the bad stuff, all the hardship, all the pain, so when I have to go into fight camp, that’s who I become,” he said. “My kids aren’t with me, I’m away from my family, and I become this hardened “Irish Hand Grenade” guy from the 80’s and 90’s and that’s who I dump everything into and that’s who I am in the UFC. It gives me that outlet so I have that ability to do what I’m supposed to do. God makes people for certain things and I believe I was made to fight.”
And as he approaches his bout with Diaz, he sees a little bit of his younger self in the Stockton standout.
“I totally do,” said Davis. “He’s probably had it much harder than me just because of the area that he’s from. And that’s real. He’s not playing a character. That’s who he and his brother (UFC vet Nick) are. And I don’t care – I don’t hold any of that stuff against him, whatever he does or however he does it. All I care about is that he’s an exciting fighter to watch, he goes out and wins fights, and we have an opportunity together to entertain the fans of the UFC and the people of Boston. That’s where everything for me lies. I’m not gonna be offended by him mean mugging me or giving me the finger. (Laughs) It’s not gonna bother me. That’s his thing, that’s what he does, and I’m cool with it.”
What has bothered Davis in recent months though, is seeing some fights devolve into wrestling matches. Not surprising from a former pro boxer, and in response, Davis has been working on his own wrestling to counter any takedown thoughts from future opponents.
“I’m trying to do more wrestling, and the reason why is because when you’re able to wrestle, you get to choose where the fight takes place,” he said. “And having the ability to choose where the fight’s gonna end up is a big deal, as we can see with these guys that are just taking their opponents down and it’s position, position, position, with little tiny shots here and there. I don’t want to lose like that. It really, really sucks to watch a fight like that and then to also be the one who loses like that. I say this all the time – I am a professional fighter and I want to win fights, but by definition, for what I do, and where I fight in the UFC, my job is to entertain. It is to go out there and to take a punch and to throw a punch and to fight exciting fights. But there are guys out there that don’t want to fight exciting fights, that want to wrestle the entire time and do the positioning stuff and want to dominate by laying on top and staying on top, and you’re seeing it more and more. The more that (UFC welterweight champion) Georges St-Pierre has done it and shown how superior his wrestling is, everybody’s like ‘how are you gonna beat this guy?’ and more people are working on it. That’s what people are doing. So I’m just trying to wrestle because I don’t want to end up fighting on the ground all the time.”
And while Diaz is a solid jiu-jitsu practitioner, he loves to standup, which is right up Davis’ alley. Again, that’s no surprise, and he’s well aware that everyone in Boston on Saturday night, from Diaz to the parking lot attendant, knows that he will want to keep the fight standing.
“It’s not math,” laughs Davis. “It’s fighting, and I know how to fight, especially when it comes to just hands. I’m gonna do everything in power to keep this fight standing up and to entertain and win this fight. I’m gonna go after it and try to finish this fight. That’s what I need to do.”
Well, in all honesty, Marcus Davis has already taken care of what he’s “needed” to do, taking care of his kids and straightening out his own life. The rest is all gravy, and he knows it, so when you ask him how this story ends, the answer is what you expect it to be.
“I don’t care, as long as it ends with “and lives happily ever after.” That will mean that I’ve done what I’ve had to do to live happily ever after, and that’s my goal.”
Davis' Quest for a Storybook Ending
“It’s not math. It’s fighting, and I know how to fight, especially when it comes to just hands. I’m gonna do everything in power to keep this fight standing up and to entertain and win this fight. I’m gonna go after it and try to finish this fight. That’s what I need to do.”