Zombie Nation blared from the speakers of the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday night, as chants of “We Are” echoed through the rafters.
No, it wasn’t a wrestling match — but it sure seemed like it from the atmosphere.
Longtime Penn State fan favorites Phil Davis and Ed Ruth returned to Happy Valley on Friday for Bellator 186, a mixed-martial arts event where both fighters competed as part of the main card. Both former NCAA wrestling champs also won in convincing fashion behind a pulsing crowd.
“It was amazing to come back home to Penn State and put on a show in front of these fans,” Ruth said. “I felt like I was back in Rec Hall, when the ‘Ruth, Ruth, Ruth’ cheers came down from the stands. I hope that Bellator continues to come back to Happy Valley and I can share my MMA career with the fans, just like I did my collegiate wrestling career.”
Added Davis: “It was exciting. Immediately, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was like, ‘Man, if what I’m hearing is true. This is going to be the best thing ever.’ It was.”
It was easy to tell that they fed off the hometown crowd much like their wrestling days — although it appeared Ruth ate a bit faster than Davis.
Ruth improved to 4-0 as a professional and made quick work of his opponent, Chris Dempsey (11-6), who fell in the second round.
It began as a wrestling match, and Ruth — a three-time college champ — controlled from the top position for most of the first round. Dempsey was eventually able to get back to his feet, but he wasn’t prepared for the second round.
That took just 27 seconds to complete. Ruth threw a right hook that connected to the side of Dempsey’s head — and the crowd stood up when Ruth’s opponent hit the mat. It was lights out, and the “Ruuuuuth” chants quickly spread across the lower bowl of the BJC.
“It just feels great,” Ruth said. “This is the first time I actually relied solely on my striking. It just makes me feel more confident in my hands and my feet. Before, I wanted to rely more on my wrestling.”
Ruth’s victory continued a streak of winning via knockout. His fight also occurred before Davis’. Not only did Davis have the crowd to feed of off but also Ruth’s thrilling win.
“I knew after Ed’s fight that I had to go out there and show the fans that ‘I am still Penn State,’” he said. “I really felt the crowd rallying around me as soon as my music hit and I made my walk down the ramp. Hopefully, the next time I compete at the Bryce Jordan Center, I have Bellator championship gold around my waist.”
Davis didn’t disappoint the fans.
Davis and Leo Leite (10-1) took the first round trying to feel each other out. Davis (18-4) got it to the ground for a little bit, but Leite escaped and scrambled to his feet.
The duo traded shots in the second and third rounds, but Davis really was looking to take it to the canvas. Leite had other plans, fighting off several of Davis’ shot attempts.
But, in the end, the winner was clear by unanimous decision. The crowd yelled for Davis before the ref raised his hand, and it exploded afterward. Davis still credited his undefeated opponent, however.
“When you have a guy that is undefeated, it is hard to get him in a position to where I can take him out,” Davis added. “He still has that unbeaten confidence. He was pushing forward a lot. In some situations, I had to dig down and let my hands go a lot more.”