Michael Page debuted in Bellator nearly six years ago against Ryan Sanders in Lewiston, Maine, the same town that Muhammad Ali knocked Sonny Liston out in for their rematch. It’s taken him all those years to get into the meat of the order; that is to say, begin fighting guys that have a legitimate chance of beating him. (No offense to Dave “Caveman” Rickels, the pride of Wichita, Kansas — Rickels is a gamer for sure. But for as hyped as Page has been over the last half-decade, he was like a scoop of Fancy Feast being presented in stemware to an alley cat).
It’s been a sloooooooooow and super-careful build for Page.
Saturday night’s grudge match with fellow British fighter Paul Daley is the pay off. Daley is slugger of the sordid stripe, a guy who’s always carrying his peeves high in the air for everyone to see. He makes the damn thing emotional. He doesn’t like Page, and Page doesn’t like him. There is genuine disgust between the two, which ratchets the thrill of them finally coming together up by factors of ten. Daley’s credentials in already having fought the who’s who of welterweights helps add doubt to the situation, as does the fact that he nearly took Brennan Ward’s head off with a flying knee.
That feat is countered, of course, by the dent that MVP left in Evangelista Santos’ forehead with his own flying knee, before playfully rolling that Pokéball at his prone body. With these things still fresh on the mind, there’s a grave air to the proceedings heading into Bellator 216. What the hell’s going to happen? If Daley and MVP launch at each other with a flying knees at the exact same time, there may not be enough paramedics in Connecticut to deal with the fallout.
Why Connecticut, you ask, rather than English paramedics? How come this fight isn’t happening in the United Kingdom, where the country could its rivals in the flesh? That’s a damn good question, and it’s been asked a lot in the last couple of months.
This fight, which doubles as the opening round of the Welterweight Grand Prix, was an obvious slam-dunk for London. Yet somehow it ended up in the familiar environs of the Mohegan Sun. Familiar because the dynamic Page, a natural showman who undulates like sonic waves once he gets into his rhythm, has fought in Uncasville three times already. Weird? He has appeared in Thackersville, Oklahoma, too, and Southaven, Mississippi. He’s been smuggled into more American backwaters than any powdered substance.
Oh well. The fight location isn’t all that different, but — far more importantly — the set-up is.
Before his fight with Jeremie Holloway, Page was asked if he was ready for a step up in competition, and he said at the time that he was fairly dying for it. That was two-and-a-half years ago. He got his wish inadvertently when he faced off against Fernando Gonzalez in 2016, a fight he escaped with a narrow split-decision victory. The problem was that he was meant to smoke Gonzalez. It only felt like a threat in retrospect, rather than in prospect. In other words, the fight was a buzz kill.
Daley is different, though.
He could legit steal Page’s soul, at least momentarily. I still remember when Daley stood in for Mike Swick on short notice against Martin Kampmann at UFC 103 and proceeded to hack Kampmann down with crisp combinations and movement. Daley can spring to life on any given night. Dude has victories over Jorge Masvidal and Lorenz Larkin, and has faced everybody from Tyron Woodley to Nick Diaz and Rory MacDonald. Daley has a major experience advantage.
Just about everything else about the fight is fun. Page is a lanky, willowy bogeyman who can catch you from anywhere in the cage. Daley is a stubborn, free-swinging chin-seeker, whose eyes light up at the first signs of a brawl. It’s a virtual guarantee that Daley will accommodate Page in the exchanges. The popular aesthetic of stand-up fighting just so happens to be what both men specialize in. One goes for the kill with a no-nonsense attitude; the other vibrates like a subwoofer whenever he starts feeling the tide turning.
One is a veteran who won’t be overcome by the moment; the other is a star in pending, who has waited a long time to test himself against a guy that could take it all away. Who wins? “Tune in to find out” has never meant more than it does for MVP on Saturday night.