With his natural athleticism and longstanding wrestling talent, Davis won’t be Bellator’s best-kept secret for much longer.
It’s only a matter of time before Bellator welterweight Joey Davis sends MMA back into an ice age.
The Compton phenom is slated for his third career bout against Ian Butler on January 20, as part of the stacked Bellator 192 undercard, which features a highly anticipated welterweight championship main event, the kickoff of a legends heavyweight tournament (plus the debut of the latest Gracie progeny).
But while L.A.’s Staples Center makes the perfect homecoming venue for Davis’ third pro bout, he knows that ascending to the ranks of MMA royalty is no sure thing. For now, Davis (nickname: “Black Ice”) will skip the sideshow hype, and use what time he has left under the radar to improve his game — while learning out-of-the-ring skills from another king.
Then, he will declare war on the Bellator welterweight division.
“I’m in no rush,” says the 24-year-old, who is one of collegiate wrestling’s most decorated athletes. “I’ve been the top guy forever, so I don’t mind waiting under the radar for now. Right now I’m slowly coming up the rankings, but I will be a motherf**ker to deal with very soon.”
And while he moonlights as a model for Lights Out brand clothing from time to time, Davis’ two-a-day workouts take up most of his time, enhancing an already unbeatable wrestling ground game by becoming more acclimated to jiu-jitsu. It’s taken Davis some time to adapt the martial arts nuances, but Davis is finally coming around.
“I was never fully into jiu-jitsu,” he says. “I didn't have the patience. But now that I'm 24, I’ve got the patience to sit and learn this sh*t. With wrestling, it was always a routine. With jiu-jitsu, you’re gonna sit your ass down and learn one move, which is completely different for me.”
If Davis’ second pro bout is any indication — his brutal elbow assault bloodied Justin Roswell and earned a stoppage in under two minutes — he could become an unstoppable force by the time he puts his varying skill sets together.
“I want to be the next thing popping,” says Davis, whose cousin is unbeaten featherweight A.J. “The Mercenary” McKee. “I want to be an icon, a rock star, the Odell Beckham Jr. of MMA.”
His nickname — Black Ice — seems custom-made for an athletic shoe, even in a sport contested barefoot. Davis earned it not in the ring, but on the gridiron: As an elusive and powerful Pop Warner tailback, his fleet-footedness earned him the nickname “Iceman” from rap icon Snoop Dogg, who was Davis’ football coach while playing for the Snoop Dogg All-Stars. But with “Iceman” forever attached to UFC legend Chuck Liddell, an identity adjustment was made, and Black Ice was born. (“Dark, slippery, and it can kill you,” explains his father, Joey Sr.)
Before his time in MMA, Davis had been eyed as the next great football star to come out of Compton, and that’s saying something: Richard Sherman, Marcellus Wiley, and Hall-of-Famers Larry Allen and James Lofton all called Compton home. Davis was a highly coveted tailback at Santa Fe High School, attracting attention from the top Pac-12 schools, but academic issues put those gridiron dreams to rest. “I had the scholarships to USC and UCLA, all the top schools,” says Davis, but no grades. “So it didn’t work.”
But football wasn’t Davis’ only forte. He was a two-time California state wrestling champion, leading him to Notre Dame—not the home of Touchdown Jesus, but the tiny Division 2 school just outside of Cleveland, where he got a second chance by thriving in his second sport.
There, Davis became a four-time national champion and All-American, and made history as the first D2 wrestler to finish his career unbeaten with a 133-0 record. Among his accolades, Davis was honored by the mayor of Cleveland, the Browns, and even threw out the first pitch at an Indians game. “He’s got loads of awards, but he ain’t got no food or money yet,” his father says. “But I told him he has to have patience. It’s a process. And he knows.”
With the help of his father, Davis landed a royal opportunity while waiting for his MMA championship dreams to play out—an internship at LeBron James’ all-digital sports programming network Uninterrupted. Still a few credits short of his degree in communications, which he plans on finishing later this year, the most dangerous man in Team LeBron’s camp may still be unrecognizable, even to King James.
As with his eventual Bellator title takedown, Davis is letting the process of meeting James play out. At age 24, he’s already used to showing patience.
“We have a lot of things in common: He’s a freak athlete and I consider myself a freak athlete,” Davis says. “I don’t know if LeBron even gives a crap about me yet, but you know he’ll hopefully hear of me soon.”