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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
On Friday night at Bellator 72, British welterweight Paul Daley will make his Bellator debut, fighting for the first time since being granted his release from Strikeforce earlier this year. Taking on Rudy Bears, Daley is looking to start things off with a win before eventually making his way into a Bellator Welterweight Tournament.
"I think I have two non-tournament bouts with Bellator, so I have this one and another one before the tournament starting in January," Daley told MMATorch this week. "They haven't guaranteed me a spot; I'm sure I'm going to have to earn it and show the Bellator fans what I'm all about. I think they're gonna be impressed as to what I've got to bring to the table. As far as I'm aware that's how things are going to work out."
One of the main reasons Daley cited for wanting his release from Strikeforce was a lack of fights, an issue he's not going to have with Bellator. Indeed, he hopes to make a fairly quick turnaround after Friday's event, then enter January's tournament on Spike TV, which will kick off potentially three fights in the early months of 2013.
"I've always been a fan," Daley said of Bellator as an organization. "I've watched Bellator, obviously one of my former training partners, Jimmy Wallhead, is with Bellator, so I've always had a close eye on it. I've loved what they've done in terms of the tournament format, and they have a lot of great fighters. The main reason for being there was to get fights, get a lot of fights, and to be kept active."
"[After Friday] I'd like to fight again maybe in the September card, give me another month, give me a little break, then keep me busy. I'd like to get back to Caesar's in Atlantic City and I think there are gonna be some great fights on that card as well. They haven't said anything, I haven't [told them] my intentions on when I want to fight again, but [hopefully] we'll come out of this fight with no injuries, and yeah, I'm ready to go. Good to go. I'll fight next week if I have to."
Daley, on occasion, has had some issues with making weight, but he feels that's behind him, and believes that fighting as frequently as he hopes to fight will keep him in much better shape on that front.
"No," Daley responded when asked if weight would be an issue with multiple fights in a short span. "If anything it will be better for me. I think the issues [with weight cutting] come when I get too relaxed, I don't get fights or I get uninteresting fights, or the people and the promotions don't really motivate me and I'm not getting much attention so I don't really give 100%. But in Bellator they're doing everything right, they're motivating me, I'm getting fights, they're keeping their promises. I think me fighting a lot is a good thing, I'll never be out of the gym."
Heading into this fight with Bears, Daley is taking a bit of a step down in competition to what he's faced over the last several years. With an eye on Bellator's tournament structure and fighting as often as possible, is there a chance he's in danger of looking past Bears?
"No, no, I've done exactly the opposite," Daley said. "I've seen an interview out there where he thinks I'm gonna overlook him. One thing I've learned in this sport through the, what, 45 fights I've had as a pro is you don't know until you're in there. You can't look past anyone, regardless of their record and ranking; it means absolutely diddly-squat. The rankings mean nothing basically, it's all controlled by the media."
"Rudy Bears is a talented fighter. He hasn't fought at the level I've fought at, but I've watched his fights, he's a capable guy. He's got great kickboxing, great jiu jitsu. His wrestling is probably not at the level I've fought and what I've trained to compete against; if there's one thing I'm not really bothered about that would be his wrestling. But as far as his jiu jitsu and striking, he's up there with some of the top guys I've fought."
Though he doesn't want to look past any opponent, he does eye an eventual showdown with Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren, who represents the biggest challenge available in the organization.
"Ben's a tough guy, he's a great Champion. His style is very similar to [Josh] Koscheck's without the level of striking and power in his hands," Daley said, in reference to his infamous bout with Koscheck, which led to his release from the UFC. "That fight could potentially be very boring and very frustrating for me, but the challenge is what I like. He's a former Olympian, he's the current Bellator Champion, he's undefeated. Without looking past the tournament and my fight this weekend, that's a very interesting fight, and I'd dedicate myself to it 100%. I'd train as I would need to, which would be with wrestlers, being on my back and getting up, stuff like that."
"It's way off in the distance now from this weekend. I've got another fight, I've got to get through the tournament and this, [and] there's some tough ass guys here in Bellator, so it's not going to be as clear cut as people seem to think. There are a lot of problems here, a lot of difficult guys, and I'm going to have to work hard."
One of the things Daley's been working on over the last several years is his grappling game. Though he understands the issues he's had on the ground in the past, he feels he's coming into his own on that front, and looks forward to surprising people if he's challenged in that aspect of the came.
"I did spend a lot of time concentrating on my grappling while I was in Strikeforce, and on the back end of being in the UFC, after the Hazelett fight, because he's a great jiu jitsu guy," Daley commented. "So I spent a lot of time from before the Hazelett fight throughout my time with Strikeforce. It's always something that I've done, I've just not had the confidence to be able to just say 'oh, I'm just going to go for it.' Now, with the experience that I've got and the confidence I have, I'm more inclined to go for stuff on the ground. I'm comfortable with my takedown defense. I'm not too worried about throwing bombs and stuff because I know how to get back to my feet and how to stuff takedowns. I guess it's something I've developed, and if the situation arises people will be more impressed because it's been something that I've concentrated on."
Now, Daley's ready and willing to take on all challenges presented to him by Bellator, but he's got one goal in the organization overall, and that's to become the Bellator Welterweight Champion. Though he doesn't have anyone specific in mind to help him get there, he's ready to take out all potential opponents that get pu in front of him.
"I don't look forward to fighting anybody," an honest Daley reflected. "I don't look forward to being in a fight, no. Knocking somebody out, if you asked me 'who would you like to knock out?' I'd like to knock out all of them. But as far as being in a fight, it's a bit daunting. They've got some really tough guys here; Bryan Baker, Karl Amoussou, Marius Zaromskis - who's always doing crazy s*** - who else? You've got Douglas Lima, who's tough all around."
"You've got so many good guys here I could fight that it's enough to not look forward to. But I've got a goal in mind, and that's what I'm looking at. I'm not looking at who I have to beat; I'm looking at the end goal, and as they come up between me and that goal, then I'll address them. And I will destroy them."
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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