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A Conversation With Paul Daley: From British Boxing to Bellator

Esther Lin, Showtime
Esther Lin, Showtime

At the moment, we probably know who Paul Daley is. In terms of the arc of his career, however, can any of us - including Daley himself - really say where he is? He's signed with Bellator and he'll make his debut for them tonight when he squares off against Rudy Bears at Bellator 72. That much is all certain.

In the larger scope of his mixed martial arts career, though,his placement seems less obvious. He journeyed through a stint with the UFC that saw him earn both impressive victories and an ignoble departure. Daley eventually moved to the international circuit as well as earning a spot on the Strikeforce roster. Yet through four fights with the former number two MMA organization, 'Semtex' lost his last three. In June of 2012 he asked for his release and was granted it.

Tonight marks the beginning of the next chapter of the striker from Nottingham's career. Questions about what Daley hopes to and can reasonably accomplish will be answered both tonight and in the coming year. Has Daley already turned in his best work or is the move to Bellator with the more consistent competition schedule precisely what he needs to perform more consistently?

In this interview with MMA Fighting, Daley discusses where he is in his career, what he still hopes to accomplish in MMA, his boxing influences, what went wrong at Strikeforce, his sense of the Bellator welterweight division and much more.

Full audio and partial transcription below:

Luke Thomas: I don't know if you're disappointed. You had Dereck Chisora to beat David Haye. Is that right?

Paul Daley: Yeah, I just looked at some of the history and I was hopeful. Realistically, David Haye was always going to win but it added a lot of controversy so I was just trying to stir up a few people and so forth on Facebook. We watched it, me and my coach came to my house and watched it and it was a great performance by David Haye.

Luke Thomas: Are you a bigger fan of the way Chisora represents himself or Haye because they're in some ways similar but different to?

Paul Daley: I think they're just both fighters. Everybody's an individual but when you get down to it, you can see by their performance that they're real fighters. They're not actors. They're real tough guys.

Luke Thomas: It was an up and down week for British boxing obviously with Haye winning but Amir Kahn losing to Danny Garcia. It surprised everyone but did it surprise you?

Paul Daley: Yeah and no. The guy that beat him was a tough puncher but he looked smaller. Kahn looked like the massively bigger guy. I knew he had a lot of power and I think what Kahn did wrong was not listen to Freddie Roach. After the first knockdown, Roach said, "clinch, hold him," and Kahn went toe-to-toe with him which was obviously the wrong choice.

Luke Thomas: Kahn is 22-1 under UK promoter Frank Warren and he's 4-2 with Golden Boy. Do you think it was a mistake to sign with Golden Boy?

Paul Daley: Yeah, I think he went a little early. He was after the game and the riches, being in America before he was actually ready. Golden Boy has given him tough match-ups and they haven't really looked after him. They don't want to see his career do well, just keep putting him in entertaining fights, win or lose I guess

Luke Thomas: We'll circle back to what Khan, Chisora and Haye mean in the UK to you, but let's start with your MMA career. Every career, no matter whose it is, has a beginning, a middle and an end and every career has its ups and downs. In the ark of your career, where are you?

Paul Daley: Me? Well I'm still on the way up. I want to finish at high so I see this new stop in Bellator, new team and new routine in my personal life as a restructuring of things that are definitely gonna end on an up. I don't intend to be in this sport as an old man like the Dan Hendersons and the like. There are enough things for me to do outside the sport in business and being a father. Another five years, achieve my goals, win the Bellator tournament, take hold of the belt and we'll see what comes after that. Make a nice little nest egg.

Luke Thomas: I'm not asking you to bash anybody at Showtime, but you asked for your release. You were granted it. You were clearly not getting what you wanted out of Showtime. What weren't you getting out of Strikeforce and Showtime that you are getting now?

Paul Daley: I wasn't getting fights basically. After the Misaki fight, granted I had lost to Nick Diaz the champion in a very close fight, I fought Tyron Woodley who's a title contender that just lost the championship in a very close fight which I thought I won and I fought a Japanese champion in Misaki who's coming down from middleweight, a former top 10 middleweight who beat Dan Henderson in a fight where I thought I won another close fight. Because of those losses, none of them are really devastating losses where I was out cold on my ass or choked out or made to look ridiculous. I was competitive in close matches. I thought there were more options to rebuild me and fight some of the up-and-comers they have there especially with the arrival of Nate Marquardt. I thought they'd have been passionate about doing that but it wasn't their plan.

I think Bellator presented a great opportunity. I think unless they merge with the UFC, they are gonna be starved for characters and superstars and I think I bring something to the table in terms of character. I make for interesting match-ups. There were matches like in Strikeforce, fights with Tarec Saffiedine and then of course there's Nate Marquardt. That fight was supposed to happen in BAMMA which would have been even in Strikeforce, especially after the performance he did this weekend. With all that, they couldn't see our vision and my management's vision and it wasn't really laying out a clear path so I asked them to release me and to test the free market and that's what happened.

Luke Thomas: Was there any pushback when you asked for a release?

Paul Daley: They did drag their feet a bit. I don't know if they were looking at it like, "Alright, what are we gonna do with him?" and I think they just couldn't see. For us, there was loads of opportunities with Strikeforce but it did take a while and I'm guessing it was to discuss it and they couldn't see what we were seeing so they approved it and gave me my release papers.

Luke Thomas: Part of the selling point was that Bellator has a more regular schedule, but were there any fighters of note that left the Zuffa family for the Bellator family that made you think, "This is a possibility for me. This is something that I can really do successfully in my career?"

Paul Daley: I just think that since purchase of Strikeforce by Zuffa, I think Bellator is number two competition. I think all going well, if the Viacom purchase turns out well, I think Bellator can do really good things. I think they've got a great format, a big company behind them now and a roster of talent that is not widely known but puts on good fights. I think they can build the characters. Now that King Mo is crossing over to TNA, that will bring a whole new dynamic to the company. We'll see. There's a lot for me to do here with the tournament and it's very interesting.

Luke Thomas: If you had your way, how many times a year would you compete?

Paul Daley: Six. I would like to fight six times a year ideally. That's when I feel I perform at my best. I'm just more focused. I don't really like breaks too much. I train continuously anyway so it doesn't really matter if the fight's scheduled or not but the mental edge, when you know you're gonna have six fights in a year, and I may not get that in Bellator but I'll get close to it. This fight now is part of the Summer Series and I think I've got another non-tournament bout before the tournament starts in January. That's a good frequency of fights. I go all the way to the final of the tournament, that's five fights. That's pretty good.

Luke Thomas: Can you fight six times a year and stay injury free? And to that point, why are so many fighters getting injured?

Paul Daley: I don't know. I've always entered this sport with the mentality of like a Thai fighter. I'm as passionate about the fight as the old school boxers, just happy for every fight you can get. Not just for the money but just for the experience to get your name out there. Take on the best competiton with no regard for the result you might get to their record. They're real fighters and they'll have a peak in their career where they get those 20 back to back wins which set them up for the future and create their legacy as such. That's my mentality in this sport. I want to fight as frequently as possible against tough guys like I always do. I always fight tough guys, beat people up and I've always been lucky enough to stay injury free and I guess I've been blessed in that way.

Luke Thomas: It seems no matter what organization you go to, there's always some guy at the top who's a high level wrestler with a smothering style. Sure enough, the champion of Bellator, obviously a very talented athlete and an undefeated champion. What is your opinion of Ben Askren and specifically his seeming inability to finish?

Paul Daley: You know, he's a great wrestler and that's what he does. It's the same at the top of all the organizations except OneFC. I think all their top guys are jiu-jitsu guys or strikers which I think is interesting as well. I've not really got an opinion. Ben Askren is a great wrestler. He's a champion and he wins fights at the end of the day. He's not the most popular with a lot of people but those people with that style aren't popular. They're not gonna be the people that if things do go wrong, they'll be picked up by other promotions because they don't have a fan-friendly style where you see throughout my career, despite wins and losses, I'll always have a home and that's always been the case because of the way I fight and my attitude towards the sport as well.

Luke Thomas: What about the other crop? Rudy Bears, you can't look past that fight but you are heavily favored. Assuming things go well, what is your sense about the other guys at the top of the welterweight heap in Bellator?

Paul Daley: It's great fights. Bryan Baker is fighting Karl Amoussou on the card as well. Obviously you've got Ben Saunders in there, Douglas Lima's a tough guy, Chris Lozano, he's a tough guy, Lyman Good, another tough guy that I was actually matched up to fight in Affliction before they went under so yeah. There's a lot of tough guys in the organization, a lot of talent. I think the company's grown with a lot of guys passionate about fighting including Rudy Bears. He doesn't have as good of a record or experience fighting as high level guys as I do, but he's no mug as we do say in England. He's gonna bring the fight.

Luke Thomas: I'm interested in what sort of mark you want to make in the sport, particularly in the UK. This wasn't going to happen in Strikeforce since they run the North American circuit. Bellator is in Canada and the US, it's a growing promotion, but it doesn't really have a footprint in the UK. Do you believe that you can make an imprint in England without really being able to compete there?

Paul Daley: I think I already have. I think the hardcore fans in the sport in the UK know who I am. I'm regularly getting stopped and getting pictures taken pretty much everywhere. I have billboards and mentions in press and this was before Bellator. This is through my other business ventures. I'm regularly in advertising and Fighter's Fit magazine and I am a figure in the UK in mixed martial arts and I think one thing people forget is prior to the UFC coming to the UK, I was one of the UK fighters that had the most exposure whether it was through Cage Rage when they were on Sky Sports or EliteXC when they were on CBS.

Before the UFC came, all the papers that they put the UFC fighters in now, I was a regular. I was already in The Sun, The Daily Star. I was already on radio doing Radio One and all this kind of stuff that the people don't know because they see the background but if you come to the UK, you'll see. Like my Facebook, I've got a strong following and it comes from all the groundwork that I did on the way up. I didn't go on TUF. I didn't do any of that. I traveled the world. I fought and got exposure that way and the media caught onto it very, very early.

Luke Thomas: How do you maintain that profile without that television presence in that market? That may change, but that's the state of things today.

Paul Daley: Yeah, I'm hoping that does change. I haven't spoken to Bjorn or other guys at the top as far as UK broadcasting but I'm happy to just be here, win and be a champion even if it means me funding things myself though my own business. I'll do that in the UK just to remain in the public eye. I'm at a stage in my career where I don't have to spend thousands of dollars on clothes and cars and stuff so I reinvest a lot in myself though markets and my business. If it means paying for an ad on local TV just to keep my name out there, I'll do it, but fingers crossed, Bellator finds a way to come over on UK TV or tape delay or something like that.

Luke Thomas: Do you feel reinvigorated with the change from the Zuffa to the Bellator?

Paul Daley: Yeah, I do. They've given me some good opportunities. I was signed with them for a couple weeks and I got a call saying, "Paul, do you want to come out to New York? We'll fly you out to do MMA Uncensored." The UFC or Strikeforce never did that for me. That's a real opportunity and before I knew it, I was on the show at the drop of a hat and they get a decent amount of viewers. I appreciate a company that is actually valuing me as a person, as a character and as a fighter. It is invigorating to get more attention.