BANGOR, Maine — Marcus Davis leaves for Malmo, Sweden, on Monday as confident as he’s been for a mixed martial arts bout in years.
Such an outlook has less to do with his opponent in the co-main event of the Oct. 6 Superior Challenge 8 fight card — native Swede David Bielkheden — than it does his own condition.
The bursitis, arthritis, impingement syndrome, bulging discs and other ailments that have afflicted him with through three decades of training and competing — ailments that have threatened to dictate the timing of his eventual retirement from the cage — are for the moment being held in check, allowing the 39-year-old former UFC combatant another chance to defy the inevitabilities of age.
“I’m at a much better place right now than I’ve been for a while,” said Davis this week. “My injuries are under control, and I’ve really been able to relax a lot more over the last three or four months.
“I’m lighter, faster and feeling better. That’s the only reason I took this fight.”
Davis’ physical condition and mental outlook have come a long way since last spring, when Mark Casserly knocked him out in the first round in their International Sport Karate Association 185-pound kickboxing title fight in Dublin, Ireland.
One stunning kick to Davis’ neck, landing near the sciatic nerve and jugular vein, ended the bout and left him unable to move his left side for approximately 20 seconds. The sudden end of that fight left “The Irish Hand Grenade” considering retirement and a greater focus on his Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy locations in Brewer and Portland.
“It was just incredible what happened,” he recalled. “That never would have happened five or 10 years ago.”
But as Davis reflected on that loss, he ultimately realized the knockout was less about Casserly’s kick than his own physical status, combined with some stubbornness in trying to fight through both an impingement syndrome in his shoulder and lower lumbar fasciitis in his back.
“I saw a physio [physical therapist] over there three days before the fight who told me not to do anything before the fight,” said Davis, who, as a result, believes he entered the ring feeling listless and ripe for Casserly’s attack.
Now, Davis says the listlessness is gone, which he attributes to the long-term benefits of a plan for personal well-being he undertook after splitting his most recent two mixed martial arts bouts during a three-week span last fall.
“I just started taking better care of myself,” said Davis, now 20-9 in his professional MMA career. “I decided I wasn’t going to keep abusing my body by training every day at that point, and I began to heal. I also saw the doctors and began doing what I needed to do to get healthy.”
“And nutrition-wise, I’ve been able to put my finger on some problems since then, such as my body wasn’t processing vitamins properly.”
For instance, while Davis typically has walked around at between 210 and 215 pounds before cutting weight in time for his bouts in recent years, in the last few months his average weight has hovered near 190.
“When I started feeling better, that’s when I thought about fighting again, and I feel great right now,” he said. “This is the first time since 2008 that I’ve gone into a fight without thinking to myself, ‘I hope this doesn’t flare up, or I hope that doesn’t flare up.’
“I feel confident that I’m going into this fight 100 percent healthy.”
Bielkheden, also known as “The Brazilian Swede” because of his black belt status in Brazilian jujitsu, brings a 17-11 record into the bout. The Stockholm native — also a former UFC competitor — has lost four of his last five fights, including a unanimous decision defeat to Cathal Pendred on June 2 in Dublin.
And while a win in this 170-pound bout reportedly would put Bielkheden in line to fight for the Swedish-based Superior Challenge promotion’s welterweight title, Davis predicts that won’t happen.
“He’s a decent striker, not a world-class striker but he throws with a lot of power and he goes both lefty and righty, so it’s not just one stance,” said Davis in analyzing his opponent. “He has decent takedowns, but I think the best thing about him is his ground and pound.
“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out my strategy will be to stay away from his takedowns and use my striking and movement to frustrate him until I catch him — and I will catch him, and I will submit him. I’m telling everybody that I’m submitting this guy, I’m submitting the black belt.”