The two welterweights go head-to-head at Bellator 183 this Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Between them, Daley and Larkin have a combined 40 knockouts (and Daley’s two submission victories were both due to strikes), so it’s safe to say that fans can expect this duel to be contested primarily on the feet.
That’s a prospect that has the 33-year-old Daley (39-15-2) looking forward to stepping in the cage with Larkin (18-6, 1 NC), even though he knew little about him before their matchup was booked. They were both members of the Strikeforce promotion in the early 2010s, but Larkin was competing at light heavyweight and middleweight while Daley was battling welterweight stars Nick Diaz and Tyron Woodley.
“I never even recognized this guy until he got to the UFC and until I started looking back at his fights in preparation for this fight and I was like, ‘Oh sh*t, he was in Strikeforce while I was there,’” Daley told MMA Fighting. “He didn’t really figure into my thoughts.
“I don’t really see him as an enemy, like any guy that I’ve ever stepped in the cage with. I’m just ready to fight September 23, I just hope he stands. I know he’s a standup guy from what I can see and I know the fans are desperate for me to fight a guy that is just going to stand there. We don’t mind if we’re bashed around a little bit, but just stay on your feet and let the fans get what they look forward to when ‘Semtex’ is fighting, which is a knockout. I believe I am the most prolific and the best knockout artist in all of mixed martial arts in any weight class.”
This is the second straight fight that Daley has been booked in against a UFC standout turned Bellator contender. Larkin changed cages after wins over Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal, which was enough to earn him an immediate title shot at Bellator’s 170-pound king Douglas Lima in June at Madison Square Garden. Lima defeated Larkin by unanimous decision.
Daley is also coming off of a loss, having been submitted by one-time UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald at Bellator 179. Though that’s certainly one that Semtex would like to get back, were he able to get any rematch he desired it would be against another elite welterweight.
“You know what,” said Daley, “He’s the champion now and he’s doing work, and I give him props because not a lot of fighters are at the level that he’s at. Give him credit. Tyron Woodley, I’d love to have a rematch with him. I think we had a good fight.
“All props to him, in every interview that he mentions the guys he’s fought, he always mentions my name and not a lot of fighters do that. I know I gave him a good fight, I know he respects my abilities, and he’s one of the top tier fighters so I would love to rematch Tyron Woodley.”
With Woodley and Daley fighting for different promotions, it’s unlikely that sequel happens anytime soon. Fortunately for Daley, the Bellator roster has several fresh matchups waiting for him, including an oft-discussed bout with fellow Englishman Michael Page that has no shortage of personal enmity.
At various times, both men have accused the other of dodging the fight, but even with all those shenanigans, Daley sees a meeting between himself and “MVP” as inevitable. He added that the demand is so high at this point that he’d like the terms of the bout to be negotiated separately from his current Bellator deal, which he estimates to have no more than a couple of fights left on it.
“I’m ready to fight him as soon as we can get the deal done,” said Daley. “It’s a big fight in the UK community and I feel like there needs to be some kind of separate contractual deal. I don’t want it to run on this current contract. In the UK, it’s a fight that everybody is looking forward to, everyone keeps asking about it. ‘When are you going to fight MVP?’ So it has to happen.”
And should the Page bout never materialize, Daley sounds like he’s content with his legacy as a pioneer of British MMA. He started back in 2003 without any guarantee that he could make a living in the sport, and now he has his own 4,000-square-foot gym, the Spirit Dojo Legacy facility in his hometown of Nottingham.
More so than title shots and grudge matches, it’s that longevity and standing in the community that pushes Daley to keep getting back into the cage.
“I feel like just to still be here is the inspiration,” said Daley. “I’m not one to take away from people’s misfortunes or the fact that someone has stopped what they’re doing, but if I look at the landscape of UK MMA and the guys competing at the level that I’m competing at now, and the guys that I started competing with, I’m the only one left of my era among UK mixed martial artists. I’m the only one that is still here and is still at the top, co-main eventing and main eventing, so I take a lot of pride in that.
“For me, that’s my motivation, to show people that through all the ups and downs in this sport, that you keep going, you can still be here.”