Paul Daley has always been there or thereabouts as one of the world’s top welterweights, but now he plans on taking that last step and fulfilling his potential as a world champion.
The Nottingham-born striker with the explosive hands (hence his nickname: ‘Semtex’) has been one of the most destructive MMA fighters to come from these shores, but when it came to world championship opportunities, it seemed he was always on the outside, looking in.
Following a string of successes domestically Daley ended up in the UFC, where he was making steady progress to the top when he faced a peak Josh Koscheck, who goaded the Brit into thinking they’d engage in a stand-up battle. Koscheck, after all, had demonstrated some new-found striking skills in recent contests and had finished two of his three most recent victims by way of spectacular KO.
But the veteran quickly switched to his wrestling in the face of Daley’s striking arsenal and held down the Brit, whose frustration with the trash-talking American boiled over after the final klaxon when he aimed a late punch, which found its mark.
That indiscretion saw Daley thrown out of the UFC for good, leaving his dream of a UFC world title in tatters.
But Daley regrouped and had successes elsewhere, outpointing Jorge Masvidal and knocking out fellow KO artist Scott Smith before eventually losing out to Nick Diaz in a thriller for the Strikeforce welterweight title. A rematch seemed inevitable, but never materialised.
Now the 33-year-old finds himself in Bellator MMA, where he’s arguably enjoying the best platform of his 55-fight career.
On Friday night Daley steps into the Bellator cage in the night’s main event against former UFC world title challenger and consensus Top 3 welterweight Rory MacDonald.
The Canadian is making his first appearance since swapping the UFC for Bellator and much is expected of the man many consider the Bellator welterweight champion in waiting.
Daley has other ideas, however. After his spectacular flying-knee knockout of Brennan Ward in January Daley boldly declared that if he and MacDonald ever met in the Bellator cage ‘The Red King’ would get knocked out.
And chatting to him during the event launch press conference, Daley said he was looking forward to stepping in with a fighter who has demonstrated the same warrior spirit we’ve seen from the Brit through his career.
Promising a “blood and guts” fight, Daley said his plan is to topple MacDonald and book himself into a title fight with current welterweight king Douglas Lima.
It’s been a long time coming for Daley who has competed at pro level for a remarkable 55 fights in order to get to this point in his career. He likened his path to that taken by boxing great Bernard Hopkins, who came back from adversity to enjoy an Indian summer at the tail end of his stellar career.
“I feel like I’m getting a lot of deserved attention and credit now. And that comes with putting your time in,” he explained.
“Not everyone’s going to come in there blitzing and be a Conor McGregor and get all that admiration straight away.
— Simon Head (@simonhead) May 9, 2017
“I’ve worked hard at it (and) gone the Bernard Hopkins route, I like to say. You know? Someone who’s grafted and grafted and grafted and might not get the attention until they’re coming towards the end of their career.
“I’ve got the attention. I’m happy with it and I’m looking forward to putting on a show.”
Daley seems to be as relaxed as we’ve ever seen him ahead of a big fight, seemingly in the knowledge that he now has all the experience at his disposal while still realising he has plenty more to give.
That all starts with Friday night’s fight with MacDonald, which represents one of the biggest MMA fights featuring a Brit in MMA history – and arguably one of the biggest main events in Bellator history.
Daley’s former teammate Dan Hardy fought Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title back in 2010, while Michael Bisping completed a remarkable rise to the top by defeating pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva last March, then going on to knock out Luke Rockhold to become Britain’s first UFC world champion, then defending the belt on home soil against Dan Henderson.
Sandwiched between Hardy and Bisping another fellow Brit, Liam McGeary (who is in action in Friday’s co-main event), defeated Emanuel Newton to capture the Bellator light-heavyweight strap in early 2015, then defended it later that year by defeating MMA legend Tito Ortiz.
But, despite the absence of a championship belt, this Daley v MacDonald fight is arguably right up there with those bouts and, even allowing for recency bias, seems more significant, more high-profile, than McGeary’s win over Ortiz.
It’s a fight against a man considered by many to be one of the very best welterweights in the world.
It’s a fight that screams action, promising an all-out battle between two fighters who seem to revel in the struggle and who are unafraid to stand toe-to-toe with the world’s best.
It’s a fight that might just be the best headliner Bellator MMA has served up under Scott Coker’s stewardship.
But will it be a fight that propels Daley one step closer to his world championship dream? We’ll find out at the SSE Arena, Wembley on Friday night.
Watch the main card of Bellator 179 on Spike UK on Friday, May 19 at 10pm. For live updates, check out MMA365’s live blog from cageside on Friday night.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 16, 2017