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Paul Daley: If Bellator is ‘trying to punish me’ with Jon Fitch fight, ‘it’s a big mistake’

Barring an unlikely change of heart, Paul Daley’s fight against Jon Fitch on Saturday will be one of Daley’s last under the Bellator umbrella.

The veteran welterweight has publicly feuded with the promotion since his September 2017 knockout win over Lorenz Larkin. Along the way, Daley has repeatedly cited a lack of respect he feels he’s received from Bellator executives and expressed disgruntlement with the lackluster promotional push he feels he’s gotten since his defeat of Larkin, a former top-10 welterweight in the UFC and marquee free agent signing by Bellator. Now, with two fights remaining on his current contract, Daley is simply biding his time before being allowed to leave the organization he’s called home for the last four years.

“I’m looking to get out,” Daley said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I’m looking to cash out. I’m looking to take these two fights and get out of the game completely and see what else is up, maybe go back to real life.”

Daley, 35, has competed eight combined times in MMA and kickboxing since signing an exclusive deal with Bellator in 2015, racking up a 6-2 record with his only losses coming to ex-champion Douglas Lima and current titleholder Rory MacDonald. Four of those six wins have come via highlight-reel knockout, including a 2017 beauty against Brennan Ward and his recent performance against Larkin, which marked one of the best wins of Daley’s career.

The issues between Daley and the Bellator brass are nothing new. The disintegrating relationship between the two sides has been the biggest narrative surrounding Daley all year. But despite his public griping, Daley said Monday that none of the Bellator higher-ups have reached out to speak with him or personally address his concerns.

Even as Bellator 199 fight week was about to get underway in San Jose, Daley said he hadn’t spoken “in a while” to the one Bellator executive with whom he does commonly communicate, Mike Kogan, “which says a little as to how things are going over there.”

“And as for (Bellator president) Scott (Coker), I’ve never spoken to Scott,” Daley said. “I’ve never had a sitdown face-to-face with Scott, and I’ve said this in a few interviews as well. For all of Dana (White)’s bad qualities, when I was with the UFC, I actually sat and spoke to him in his office face-to-face. He is as he is in front of the camera. He’s very upfront and he’ll tell you exactly how it is. Whereas, Scott, now I’m starting to notice from my time with Strikeforce and my time in Bellator, he has a — I feel, anyway — I feel like he has a camera persona, and then away from the cameras he’s just as bad if not worse than Dana White was. I’m just not happy with Bellator at the moment. That’s just it. I mean, it is what it is.

“I’m over all that bullsh*t. I feel undervalued and I’m just going to play it out how it is.”

Daley has been unflinching in his criticism of Bellator since the relationship turned sour.

In a Facebook post penned in January that addressed a few of his concerns, “Semtex” plainly proclaimed, “F*CK Bellator.”

And that full-throated approach likely won’t change anytime soon.

“Well, what can they do?” Daley said. “What can they do? Hold me on one fight? They couldn’t hold me on one fight. They tried to do that to (Alexander) Shlemenko. I spoke to Shlemenko’s manager. See, these are the kind of underhand tactics that they’ve been doing, but it’s not been posted. It’s not been made public. But I’ve spoken with managers and seen what the real situation is, how it is really is. I’m not happy — why can I not say it? If you’re not happy at your job, you make it known, and normally the boss will address you directly if you’re not happy with your job.

“From September, I’ve been saying I’m not happy with how things are going with Bellator. I’ve not heard from Scott once. I’ve publicly said he was bitter that I didn’t take the (Michael) Page fight. I’ve publicly said that the Senior VP agreed for my release, which I had in text messages. And all of this has been going on. Not once have I had an email, a phone call, nothing from Scott. Nothing. I thought he was the boss. If you work at a Wal-Mart and sh*t, you ain’t happy, the boss will address you. Go to your manager and say, ‘Look, this is what it is,’ and they’ll speak to you personally. I’m not had this and it’s shame to say that.

“I ain’t fighting in [the middle of nowhere]. They’re putting me on these marquee cards. I’m main-eventing, co-main-eventing. Well if that’s the case, then have enough respect to come and speak to me when I’m saying, ‘Look, I’m not happy with how things are.’”

Though he declined to delve into specifics about his post-Bellator plans, Daley opened the door for a few possibilities.

He conceded that it’s possible he leaves MMA entirely, in which case he may turn his attention towards boxing or kickboxing. He also admitted to being interested in a potential return to the UFC.

Either way though, Daley is simply looking forward to having more options at his disposal.

“You know what? For me, like I said to you last time — yeah, the bigger paychecks, it’s nice when it comes to you, but I’m happiest just being free,” Daley said.

“I like the freedom of being able to go when I want. I don’t like how people’s personalities and their motives change. If you do rub me up the wrong way, I like to be able to just go, and I haven’t gotten that freedom here in Bellator. So, I’d just like to do my own thing. Like I said, I don’t care if I’m fighting in a small hall or if I’m fighting in a big arena. As long as I’m fighting and I’m busy, I’m happy. And maybe once this contract’s run out, then you’ll soon see me doing more stuff like that, like a free agent.

“You’ll see me in Brazil, you’ll see me in Russia. You’ll see me in, I don’t know, England. You’ll see me in Dubai, Bahrain. You’ll see me all over the place with different promotions, and I prefer to be that type of fighter. I don’t like to be tied down with people telling me sh*t and making false promises and stuff like that. That’s just, it’s bullsh*t.”

As for the challenge he faces ahead of him at Bellator 199, Daley acknowledged that it’s possible Bellator officials were attempting to punish him, in a way, by booking him against a renowned grinder like Fitch. Many of Daley’s losses have come at the hands of wrestlers and Fitch is notorious for dragging even the most entertaining of fighters into sluggish affairs.

But Daley is unworried.

“If they’re trying to punish me, it’s a big mistake,” Daley said. “And I almost feel quite happy. I’m not even talking too much about the fight because I’ve prepared extremely well and we are extremely confident, despite the on-paper matchup with Jon Fitch. I’m over him. I’m going to walk through Jon Fitch and it’s going to be a pretty convincing win for me, so I’m kinda happy that they’ve given me this old guy to fight, and I will make him look like an old guy. And he can say what he wants.

“The Tony Bellew and David Haye fight, Tony Bellew is the better fighter. David Haye was the better fighter on paper, he was the supreme athlete and everyone said he should’ve won, but his body just couldn’t take it. And maybe his body could take the 12 three-minute rounds that it was scheduled to do, but it’s the preparation in the run-up to that, and I don’t think Jon Fitch has been training as hard as he used to. I’m going to be faster. I’m going to be stronger. My mind’s in the right place and I feel like, when my back is against the wall — and that’s how I feel with Bellator — that’s when I perform best. So, unlucky Jon Fitch.”

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