Former Penn State wrestler Phil Davis, a four-time All-American, never thought this day would come.
The mixed martial arts fighter — who has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jiitsu — has competed from Connecticut to Sweden, and from California to Brazil. But, on Friday night, he’ll finally be back home in Happy Valley.
Davis, along with two local fighters and former Nittany Lions wrestler Ed Ruth, will take part in the MMA event Bellator 186 at the Bryce Jordan Center. Davis and Ruth are part of the main card, while Bellefonte native Mike Putnam and Petersburg’s Ethan Goss are on the undercard.
“No way, no way, I thought Penn State would let this happen,” said a smiling Davis, shortly after his official weigh-in Thursday morning at Country Inn & Suites. “It’s always special to be back in this area. You travel around doing this in different cities all over the world, and this is different. It’s just a different feel.”
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Davis, the 2008 NCAA wrestling champion at 197 pounds, now trains out of San Diego but was back on campus with Ruth for the football team’s home opener against Akron. Ruth, a three-time NCAA champ, returned to Penn State on Sunday and toured the campus.
He marveled at the football locker room and the newly furnished wrestling facilities. But, he said about 24 hours prior to his fight, he couldn’t wait to step into the ring at the BJC.
“When they told me about this one, man, I was thinking about it every day,” Ruth said, gulping down a Pedialyte after making weight. “I was like, wow, I’m about to go back home. This is a big deal for me.”
Ruth is a 3-0 middleweight who started his career just last year. All of his wins have come from technical knockout. He’s set to face Chris Dempsey (11-5), who was knocked out in his last three bouts. Davis boasts a 17-4 record and was once the Bellator Light Heavyweight champion before losing his title in June to Ryan Bader, who’ll compete in another fight Friday night. Davis will face undefeated 39-year-old Leo Leite (10-0).
Both Davis and Ruth are at least 5-to-1 favorites, according to online sportsbook Bovada. Putnam (1-1) is also considered a favorite over Scott Clymer, who’s taking part in his first professional fight.
“He’s not training where I’m training,” Putnam said, referring to the fact Clymer fights in a smaller Pennsylvania town. “I’m training at Long Island; killers every day. That’s why I moved there. Here, I was a big fish in a small pond. You go there, you’re a minnow swimming with sharks every day.”
All three fighters — Davis, Ruth, Putnam — said they’re experiencing some butterflies before their respective fights. After all, fighting in front of more family members and friends than they’ve ever seen tends to promote a bit more nerves.
But Putnam said he’s trying to use that to his advantage. “I can’t lose in front of my friends and family,” Putnam added. “That’s keeping me pumped up.” Davis and Ruth said they’re just going to take it easy, eat some fruit and relax.
Davis joked he might catch up on Netflix’s “Stranger Things 2.” But, whatever he does, Friday’s still going to be on his mind.
“You always get butterflies,” Davis said. “It’s not that it doesn’t get me nervous. It’s kind of like a vacation. You look forward to your vacation but, sometimes, it can make you a little nervous. Do I have everything? Have I packed everything I need? Those things still give you butterflies, but you’re still excited to go on vacation.
“That’s how it is. I look forward to these trips. I’ve done all the hard work, and I really appreciate the competition — and I look forward to it.”
If you go
What: Bellator 186: Bader vs. Vassell
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
When: 6:30 p.m.; doors open at 6 p.m.
Tickets: Starts at $28 and are available at BJC ticket outlets and Ticketmaster
TV: 9 p.m. on Spike