The biggest criticism that has followed Michael Page throughout his MMA days has been grumbling about his perceived strength of schedule — or lack thereof.
A striker extraordinaire, Page has dazzled over the course of his six-year undefeated MMA career, building a lengthy highlight reel of flashy yet cold-blooded sequences like his infamous flying knee knockout of Evangelista Santos followed by a Pokemon-inspired celebration while his fallen foe writhed in pain on the mat. But despite Page’s popularity and success, the jury is still out on his ceiling in the sport, largely because of the slate of opposition Bellator has thrown his way — a list of journeymen and mid-card fighters that lacks the kind of big name presence of one of Bellator’s true standouts.
It’s why Page’s long-awaited return to the cage this Friday at Bellator 200 is so important. When the lights draw low in London’s The SSE Arena, Page will locks horns with David Rickels, a longtime Bellator contender who has challenged a who’s who of the promotion’s ranks. Altogether, Rickels sports an impressive 13-4 record in the Bellator cage. He was a Bellator fighter before “MVP” even began his own MMA career, and Rickels’ only losses over that span have come against men who have either held a Bellator title or vied for gold.
Given that, it’s fair to say Rickels represents the perfect measuring stick to gauge whether Page is ready to swim with the sharks in the welterweight pool.
So what does “MVP” see when he looks at his veteran foe?
“I see another very tough MMA fighter with a lot of experience,” Page told MMA Fighting. “Even the people that he’s actually lost to show the level that he’s at, because he’s only lost to really high-caliber fighters. Guys like Michael Chandler and ‘Pitbull.’ These are guys who are ex-champions and champions for a reason. He’s a very experienced fighter, there’s no doubt about that, who can fight at a very high level, so he’s a tough guy. He’s a tough guy and I enjoy that kind of challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”
Page, 31, has long called for an opportunity to test himself against the best fighters that Bellator has to offer. While his critics may be dissatisfied with his strength of schedule, Page is quick to note that his slate of opposition is through no fault of his own, especially considering how hard “MVP” has campaigned for a matchup against power-punching contender Paul Daley over recent years.
Still, it’s also fair to point out that Page’s résumé is not altogether lackluster for someone of his experience level. The combined record of Page’s Bellator opponents is good for a 64-percent win percentage, which is acceptable for a prospect still on the rise. Additionally, two of Page’s eight Bellator victories were over fighters with UFC experience — Nah-Shon Burrell and Ricky Rainey, the latter of whom is currently signed by the UFC and lost to Page via first-round knockout.
So while Page is happy to finally be fighting the David Rickelses of the world, he knows that it’s going to be a long time before people stop picking holes in his MMA journey.
“It’s good to have these kind of opponents, but I always say I don’t think it changes people’s perceptions, especially with my type of style,” Page said. “I think at the beginning it’s, ‘David Rickels is an amazing opportunity for me to prove to the world blah, blah, blah,’ and then if I manage to do exactly what I feel I can do to someone like him and I finish him in fantastic style, or again, I make it look ridiculously easy, then it’s, ‘David Rickels is somebody that I shouldn’t have fought. David Rickels is another person that wasn’t on the right level again, blah, blah, blah again.’ So this is why I don’t care to change those kind of minds, because they don’t know what they’re watching.
“Some of the fighters that I’ve fought before, the level that they’re at in comparison to the level that I was at — some of these guys have been the UFC, some of these guys have now even gone to the UFC and they’re doing amazing things. But again, I think my style is a blessing and a curse, because I don’t end up going through any wars with people, so it doesn’t look like we’re on an even playing field. It always looks like I should be fighting someone harder, someone harder, someone harder. So it’s just one of those things that I think will always be there, regardless of how far I go.”
In truth, the biggest factor that has slowed Page’s advancement in MMA has not been his level of opposition, but rather his lack of overall activity. Because of injuries and what Page calls “politics,” the Englishman has been stuck on the sidelines for 18 months — his last appearance was a split decision win over Fernando Gonzalez in November 2016.
When “MVP” first signed with Bellator four years ago, he had grand plans of taking over the promotion. That hasn’t happened, however Page is hopeful that his recent long layoff will be his last.
“In terms of obviously the injuries and all the other negative stuff that’s come up over the time, that’s prevented me from fighting a bit more regularly,” Page said. “To be fair, I feel like I should have more fights under my belt. I don’t care too much about whether I’m fighting someone with a belt or going for the belt, I just feel like I should’ve been more active. And if I could’ve changed it, I would obviously. Being able to take injuries away, I would’ve been a hell of a lot more active in the cage and people would’ve seen a hell of a lot more. And I think the more you’re not on shows, the less people kinda have your name on the tip of their tongue, so it makes it harder to push forward and dominate when everyone isn’t talking about you. So I just need to be in the cage more.
“That’s one thing that I’ve even spoken to Bellator about. I just want to do more. I want to be more active.”
That reintroduction to the Bellator fold starts on Friday against Rickels at Bellator 200. A win will likely propel “MVP” into the high-profile matchups he has long coveted, and after sitting out for over a year, he is more than happy to return against a gritty opponent like “The Caveman.” The way Page describes it, Rickels’ ultra-toughness could lead to a perfect showcase of the flamboyant style that has turned Page into must-see television any time he steps foot into a cage.
“One-hundred percent, he’s definitely that kind of person, because I feel I could land a devastating shot and he’s the kind of person who would get back up from it,” Page said. “Which means that I can actually do something spectacular, followed by something spectacular, followed by something spectacular, which means hopefully you’ll get to see a lot more from me in the cage. He’s a person that likes to go to war. I’m a person that doesn’t. I’m the sniper that you don’t see. I’m not on the frontline. I’m in the mountains somewhere, you’re not going to see the shot, and when it lands, it’s devastating.
“He just seems like a guy that, he will want to keep pushing through that, because he is a caveman after all. But at the same time, he is human, and at the end of the day, he will fall once, he will fall twice, and the third time, he’s not looking to get back up. He’s not going to want to get back up, or he’s not going to be able to get back up. And that’s my plan.”