On July 16th 2016, Paul Daley entered the cage ready to fight for a shot at Bellator gold. Fighting at the O2 Arena in London, England, ‘Semtex’ took on former champion Douglas Lima in a pivotal clash of top contenders. On that night though, over aggression would seemingly hinder Daley’s chances early as he walked onto a left hook and was quickly floored. Daley admirably fought to his feet nonetheless but constantly seemed to be trying to claw back the early deficit he’d suffered. There were some positives along the way but overall Lima successfully dictated the action and continued to hurt Daley regularly en route to a unanimous decision win.
As the dust settled some felt the result spelled the end for Daley. Though Lima was respected as an elite talent, the timing seemed perfect for a Daley victory heading in. He had entered the cage on the back of three straight wins under the Bellator banner and just one defeat in his last ten fights. Also, Lima was a late replacement and had been inactive so as far as title contention, it felt like a now or never moment for Daley. Though he’d played a part in some enthralling and memorable moments, titles on the world stage had consistently eluded him.
It was nine years ago when the famed knockout artist first battled for gold on the world stage as he took on Jake Shields in the ill-fated Elite XC promotion. Even back then ‘Semtex’ was a revered puncher but his ground game simply wasn’t good enough to halt Shields and the elite grappler eventually submitted Daley with an armbar in the 2nd round. Regardless, Daley would rebuild and eventually found himself on the UFC roster. His octagon debut would come in the form of an upset stoppage win over Martin Kampmann too, overwhelming the Danish contender with heavy hooks early and often.
With hype and momentum now rightly on his side, Daley furthered his Welterweight ascension with a violent knockout win over Dustin Hazelett and suddenly found himself edging towards a title shot. The combination of punching power and a polarizing personality fast-tracked Daley somewhat and he was next booked to take on Josh Koscheck in a number one contender fight. The winner would go on to face the superstar champion Georges St-Pierre and even coach opposite him on The Ultimate Fighter. Some pre-fight animosity would create great anticipation amongst fans but in reality the fight now lives in infamy for a variety of reasons.
Koscheck used his superior wrestling to control Daley for almost all of the underwhelming fifteen minutes but it was some post-fight shenanigans that really dominated the headlines. Frustrated and angered, Daley lashed out with a punch well after the final bell and as a result, was immediately banished from the UFC for the foreseeable future. Daley still had value as a free agent though and soon headed to Strikeforce, instantly becoming a major player. ‘Semtex’s penchant for excitement was a great fit for a Scott Coker led promotion and almost seven years later that is still very much the case.
An emphatic face plant knockout win over Scott Smith quickly inserted Daley as a top contender and after another brutal win back in England, Daley was now set to fight the beloved champion Nick Diaz. In one of the most spectacular title bouts of all time, Daley and Diaz went back and forth in a wild five minute war. Daley dropped Diaz early and continued to hurt him afterwards but the Stocktonite’s marauding pressure eventually broke the challenger down and led to his demise with just three seconds left in the opening round. Though he’d played a part in one of the most thrilling and dramatic fights in the sport’s history, Daley had sadly fallen short in his quest to secure the Strikeforce title.
For the next few years Daley would travel the world, mostly winning as he jumped from promotion to promotion before eventually landing in Bellator in 2014. ‘Semtex’s debut was originally scheduled to be a title fight with then champion Lima but an injury to the Brazilian canceled the bout. Instead, Daley scored three wins against less known opposition before suffering defeat in the aforementioned Lima bout in London. After years of vying for gold, it seemed that Daley’s title opportunities had finally run dry. Either way, Daley still looked to have years left as a valuable part of the Bellator roster simply due to his fan friendly fight style.
It was for that reason Daley was next booked to fight fellow Bellator fan favourite Brennan Ward. Daley would fight off an early Ward takedown before stunning the American with a spinning back elbow and then closing the show via spectacular flying knee knockout. In an instant Daley had re-established his contender status and reignited his career in a big way. The post-fight interview only furthered that too, with Daley showing his promotional nous by calling out Bellator’s hottest new signing, former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald. Fast forward under four months later and to Daley’s credit, a fight with MacDonald is now just days away.
Coming to London for his long-awaited Bellator debut, MacDonald poses a very tough test for Daley. He’s an undeniably elite Welterweight with an incredibly well-rounded skillset but Daley brings that x-factor that always adds a layer of suspense. Though he is seemingly outgunned in some areas, Daley has the ability to end proceedings at any moment with just one shot. The likelihood of that possibility is very much in question but it’s hard to argue that this will likely be one of Daley’s last chances at securing a shot at an elite level title. Win, lose or draw though, I’m sure that Daley’s journey will continue on as long as he wants it to as quite simply, when ‘Semtex’ fights, people watch. Understandably so too, as for fifteen years now Daley has been rendering people unconscious in stunning fashion. The question now becomes: how many years are left?
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