2011 was not the kindest of years to British welterweight Paul Daley. At least not in Strikeforce. Of the five fights he took in those twelve months, he lost the two that took place within the Strikeforce cage. Yes, the other three wins in smaller shows were against respected competitors. But when it counted the most - and when the Strikeforce title was on the line against Nick Diaz - everything fell apart.
Talking to Daley now, he's still smoldering. He still wants to compete and knows he can against the best, but this time he wants the bigger bouts to go his way. "I've had [title] opportunities and I just haven't taken them. I'd like to work my way towards another opportunity at fighting for a belt," a thoughtful Daley told Ariel Helwani today on The MMA Hour. "My main focus in 2012 is getting a belt here at Strikeforce."
He's not making demands, of course. These days, Daley understands the value of right timing, and perhaps most importantly, right place. Being part of a bigger show is not something to take for granted. "I'm just happy to be here with Strikeforce and still competing," Daley humbly admitted. "Since Zuffa has taken over Strikeforce there's a lot more organization to the whole promotion. I'm just happy to be part of it."
That's Daley today: a fighter alternating between gratitude for opportunity and an unfailing desire to prove he can best his contemporaries as the top welterweight around.
The road back starts this Saturday. Daley is set to face Japanese import Kazuo Misaki on the main card of Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Daley is cognizant of the challenges in front of him. He calls Misaki 'a proper fighter' and touts his knowledge of his opponent via the help he gave Melvin Manhoef before the Dutch striker's bout with him in 2009.
But while Daley acknowledges Misaki's legitimacy, he's more excited to just be fighting in Strikeforce. "I was just happy to fight. I was just happy to be fighting. I'm a fighter. I like to stay active," Daley matter-of-factly noted. Beating Misaki is important for Daley - his career can't go forward without it - but the real priority on Saturday is "a chance to get some more wins together and get another shot at the championship belt."
Daley knows he'll have to wait in line. He's lost two in a row in Strikeforce and their welterweight roster has a new, important addition: the UFC-estranged Nate Marquardt. Daley sees him as an asset and potential opponent.
"I appreciate the level that Nate [Marquardt] has fought at and the interesting match-ups that he brings for Strikeforce," Daley confesses. "The fact that I was supposed to fight him before and hopefully now it can materialize in Strikeforce it's a motivating factor for me also."
To hear Daley play matchmaker, he's betting Strikeforce will likely pit Marquardt against the surging if uninspiring Tyron Woodley first to crown a champion. Given Marquardt's name value and the lackluster action in Daley's first bout with Woodley, it's no mystery to the British striker he'll have to wait his turn. "I can see why they'll give Nate the title shot straight away and it's something me and my team was discussing earlier on today," Daley confessed. "A rematch with me and [Tyron] Woodley...wasn't really an exciting fight the first time around. I can see why it'd be hard for the promoters to make something of that fight whereas Nate has a big name. It would be a real test for Tyron Woodley as well. See if he can escape with another victory."
Daley's angle, though, is no matter who wins between Woodley and Marquardt, he's not going to be too far behind. "I figure after Nate beats Woodley, then I get the shot for the championship belt having defeated Misaki. It's interesting."
Whatever happens to Daley this Saturday or in 2012, he still cannot seem to escape the impact of his falling out with UFC President Dana White. After sucker punching Josh Koscheck after the final bell in their fight at UFC 113, Daley's been out of the UFC and seemingly without any hope of return. It's cast a shadow on his career and with the two additional loses in 2011, an issue that follows him wherever he goes.
Yet, it's not something he wants to talk about. This time there's reluctance and that may be to his benefit. Daley doesn't want to get mired in what is an intractable situation when only words are involved. Once and for all, the British striker would prefer to let his fighting do the talking for him.
Round by round, fight by fight, Daley wants to prove his accomplishments can carry him where he wants to go. On Saturday, it's a win over Misaki. In 2012, it's the Strikeforce belt. Beyond that? It's as far as his fighting can take him.
"I don't really wanna harp on about [my situation with Dana White]. I just want to keep going forward, keep training hard, keep getting good wins, keep entertaining and just doing my thing. And I think that is enough to show I'm an asset to whatever organization I'm at."