Paul Daley burst onto the UFC scene with back-to-back first-round stoppage wins. The Muay Thai wrecking machine from Nottingham, England, looked to be on track for a title shot until a disastrous UFC 113 appearance against Josh Koscheck.
After being outwrestled for three rounds, a frustrated Daley struck Koscheck after the bell. He was immediately released by the UFC. Instead of facing welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, he found himself looking for a new promotion to ply his trade with.
Since then Daley has put together an 8-3 streak fighting for BAMMA, Strikeforce, and Bellator, amongst others. Friday night he will be facing BJJ black belt Rodrigo Ribeiro in the Dubai FC 4 main event at the Madinat Arena.
The United Arab Emirates is a long way from Las Vegas, the traditional fight capital of the world, but Daley is happy to get to travel and compete for as long as visa issues make it impossible for him to travel to the United States to compete for Bellator, whom he is currently contracted to.
“The opportunity (to fight in Dubai) arose because my visa is being delayed to go out to Bellator to fight, so it’s a good opportunity to take advantage of,” he said.
Daley (31-12-2) will be a firm favorite against Ribeiro (9-10), but “Semtex” says he is definitely not underestimating the Brazilian.
“He’s a jiu-jitsu specialist, a jiu-jitsu black belt, so that’s something that has to be respected. He’s had 19 MMA fights, so he’s an experienced fighter and looks like he’s in good shape. It should be a good fight.”
While Daley is enjoying his newfound freedom to compete anywhere from Ireland to Dubai, and says fights in Korea and Russia are also in the works, his focus is on fighting for Bellator in the United States, which is something he is unable to do right now due to ongoing legal issues in the U.K.
It means a welterweight match-up with War Machine is currently on hold, but Daley is confident that he will eventually be able to get a visa and believes the situation could be resolved before the end of the year.
“It will be this year. September would be realistic, but definitely before the end of the year. Basically I just have to wait for some feedback from my solicitor with regards to the visa and then we’ll go from there.”
Daley says he has not given up hope of facing War Machine – who is booked to make his Bellator debut against Blas Avena on June 19 – and is confident he can beat the colorful Ultimate Fighter veteran.
“Hopefully the War Machine fight will happen; I’ll beat him. I’m pretty confident I could beat anybody that’s currently out there. The only fights I see that would be a challenge are the guys that are ranked in the top seven in the world; there’s some tough fights for me there,” he said.
The plan at present is to have a couple of feature fights for Bellator, starting with the long-awaited War Machine match-up, before entering the next welterweight tournament. Daley does not know exactly what the timeline would be, but believes that, if he wins, he has what it takes to dethrone reigning 170-pound king Ben Askren.
“I think I can beat Ben Askren,” Daley said. “He is probably the best pure wrestler in all of MMA and he presents a big problem, but I think I can beat him and I think I have the right team around me that can prepare me and get me ready for that kind of fight.”
Aside from his visa, Daley has also had some issues with the scales during his career. But he 179 pounds just four days out from his fight with Ribeiro, and is confident that he has put his weight problems behind him. This is partly due to a more disciplined approach to diet and training between fights, but he has also been busy with an MMA camp that he set up in his native Nottingham.
“I’m training at my gym, Spirit Dojo. We’re a growing gym, we’re doing well and a lot of people are hearing about us and we’re getting some good guys in to help us with training camps as well. Most of the fighters are young, up-and-coming guys and it’s not their time to be mentioned in interviews, but they know who they are and you’ll start hearing about them soon.”
Daley has used his striking to score early stoppages in his last two fights and his only recent loss was a split decision at the hands of Kazuo Misaki. In that fight, he attempted to employ a more tactical approach, taking the Japanese veteran down repeatedly, but says he has learned his lesson from that defeat and will stick to his strengths in future.
“Basically what happened with the Misaki fight was that I started to believe the media. Everyone said I needed to show some wrestling, so I go in there, I take a guy down, I beat him up, I elbow him, I cut his head open and I lose because I didn’t fight the way I normally fight. So it’s like, ‘what the (expletive); what do I have to do?’ So now I’m just sticking to knocking people out. It’s much easier.”
Daley’s next destination after Dubai could be Korea, as his manager is in talks with a promotion there and, given that Road FC are known to be looking for an international opponent for welterweight Bae Myung Ho on their June card, that is a match-up that could be in the making.
Before that, however, he has business in Dubai to attend to. He’s confident he will get to display his striking prowess against Ribeiro and secure a third successive stoppage win.
“The fans can expect an entertaining fight, they can expect a knockout and a crazy celebration, and that’s it.”