Following ‘surprising’ Rory MacDonald bout, Paul Daley out to show his superiority in Bellator

Every so often in MMA, a clash between two titans of a division is served unto us for our entertainment. A fight in which the viewers aren’t quite sure who’ll take the victory, but an idea of what to expect was with the people.

In May, it was just that as Paul Daley (39-15) locked horns with newly released UFC superstar Rory MacDonald in Bellator’s return to London. A win for Daley would have placed him on a higher level than many give him credit for whilst victory for Rory would be the perfect starting point in his.

As great as he may have felt heading into his biggest, most compelling bout in some time, Daley admits he wasn’t expecting such a grappling contest against a man known for his killer instincts on the feet from the get-go.

“Approaching the Rory fight, the plan was to be patient and relaxed,” Paul dissected. “We really thought he was going to stand and trade with me. We wanted to set the pace, not rush in and pick our shots as to not allow the takedown to present itself to Rory, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way. He fought smart and forced the takedown and the rest became history.

“It caught us off guard a little with the takedown coming so early on. We’re not usually that gullible, but something told us he had a point to prove on the feet when really he didn’t want to get his nose fucked up again.

“I always thought Rory was a more aggressive version of Georges St-Pierre in that he’s happy to stay standing like he had in previous fights and not just chase the takedown when it came,” Daley continued. “For me, he didn’t ever seem like a GSP kind of guy, to throw a jab and shoot in straight away, so I was expecting more opportunities standing up. It was a different approach that I surprised me. I know it’s mixed martial arts, but my mind was fixed on picking shots, but before I knew it, it became a ground affair.”

The MacDonald misfortune has provided plenty of reassessment time for ‘Semtex,’ working only in the favour of the former because as tides begin to turn and Bellator’s roster increases its strength in divisions, better competition brings Daley right back into another big fight with another UFC veteran in Lorenz Larkin (18-6) on September 23rd.

“I’ve gone back into the mentality of taking the fight as it comes and not trying to force it down one road,” the 34-year-old addressed. “I feel I always prepare well for mixed martial arts competition and focus on my strengths while tying up my weaknesses, but I bought into what Rory was saying when what I need to do is focus on me and myself. Forget what’s being said, forget about the footage and just focus on me.

“Lorenz is definitely more of a stand-up guy. I’ve seen him engage in the clinch and in grappling and wrestling competitions, but I’m focused on fighting him and the fact that he likes to stand more. Like I said before, I don’t want to focus too much on what my opponent’s will be doing.

“Especially with Lorenz, as I never really paid this guy much attention until he came to Bellator with the whole free agent thing. The more I heard the more I was intrigued, so I’ll be happy if we stay to our plan, go out on the night and perform.”

A fight with Larkin was one that caught the eye of the knockout specialist once the crossover was complete and it just so happened that both men wanted this fight. It’s no secret Daley has other rivalries within the promotion, but at this very moment Paul recognises the significant difference in fighting a contender in Lorenz Larkin.

“I think it was 50/50,” Daley revealed. “I know Michael Page was calling to fight Lorenz straight away, but I was looking to fight towards the end of the year. The fight with MVP is stewing but I want it to stew a little bit more while I fight these guys like Larkin. I saw this opportunity, his name was given to me and I said I was game for this fight.

“If he comes to fight the same we fought Douglas Lima, then the fight will be very interesting and entertaining. It has potential to be one of those great fights like I’ve had in the past with the likes of Nick Diaz where we both came out in a crazy swingfest and I feel if he comes out and I be myself then it’s bound to be one of those classics.

When you look back at the long, gritty journey Paul Daley has travelled the last fourteen years, it’s a tremendous timeline of magnificent highs, wacky lows and downright crazy slugfests. All these have shaped the welterweight battler. As he reaches thirty-four years of age, Daley doesn’t see a reason to slow down any time soon. However, he remains grateful of the path he’s followed and, should his body feel unwilling to push the extra mile, he’s smart enough to hang it up there and then.

“At this point in my career I’m enjoying being part of the sport and still being able to compete in MMA at this and I appreciate the people who are still interested in me fighting. I look around at the landscape and there’s not many people out there who are still fighting from back in the day – and if they are they’re not fighting on big shows against the calibre of competition I’m in there against.

“I’ll know when my time is up, but I don’t feel anywhere near it right now. I won’t be taking enhancers to stay at the top. Steroids are always going to be in our sport. I’m very different in the fact that I’m a traditional martial artist and have firm belief in my own skills. That stuff never grabbed my attention. I’m sure 95% of guys that I’ve completely smashed and knocked out have been on all kinds of shit.

“Even now as an older man, with the whole TRT that the veterans were taking, if my body is in need of help to push it to the level I can currently, that’s when I know it’s over.”

There’s a dramatic difference in the world of MMA today compared to its recent history. With fighters testing free agency, a world-class fighter or a fighter with world-class potential can find comfortability outside of the UFC, causing a swing in dimensions. For somebody who has spent so much time outside of the UFC, Paul can only see this as a positive change.

“I think it’s good for the sport,” ‘Semtex’ opined. “There should be a more level playing field between promotions. It’s good that money is being matched and fighters are being able to renegotiate purses. Beforehand it was like, if you want to fight as your career you have to be with this promotion or go somewhere else and scrape by. However now, with Bellator there’s two major promotions you can make a living in.

“Working with Scott has always been good as we go far back to the Strikeforce days. He gave me some massive opportunities like the Diaz fight and he continues to provide me with big fights. For me, that’s a massive pat on the back because it shows he has faith that I can perform at the highest level. He knows he might approach other fighters and they may um-and-ah about a fight, whereas I’ll say yes and fight hard – something my whole career has been built on.”

Following the loss to MacDonald, the world saw Daley go on an immediate tangent, calling out Michael Page and almost erupt into a mass brawl in the crowd. Since then, ‘Venom’ has opted a short stay in boxing world. However in the mind of Daley, the collision with Page is inevitable and one that he feels the undefeated welterweight will be biting off far more than he can chew.

“I think he’s trying to tread water a little bit, to be honest. Michael knows the fight between us is big. We’re both of similar styles being stand-up guys and given where he’s at now and me being tied up in this fight, he knows the other guys out there for him to fight won’t bring him anywhere near the level of attention or the payday a fight with me would bring.

“I also think he’s a scared. Scared of being exposed, because he’s at the level and people are asking more of him and he’s going to have to fight these guys who are better, well-rounded and bring a strong, aggressive ground game or are awkward as well as guys who are as awkward as he is and able to put him in positions he doesn’t like to be in.

“He likes to showcase against lesser opponents on paper, but now he’s going to have to be in there with the big fish and the first big fish he fights is going to be me. I think he should be staying active in MMA rather than jumping into boxing, because honestly speaking, he’s only going to be fighting small hall guys.

“He’s not going to be fighting any dangerous opponents. He’s just treading water to keep his name in the combat sports arena, trying to capitalise on the boxing versus MMA thing in the way Mayweather and McGregor have. I think by doing that he’s making a big, bad mistake.”