The Link (Concordia University)
MONTREAL (CUP) — As he stepped into the cage in the centre of a sparse Montreal crowd screaming for him to “kill, kill, kill,” it must have been difficult for Paul Daley not to realize how abrupt his fall from grace has been.
When he last came to Montreal, just 16 months earlier, Daley was one win away from a shot at the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title. There was a moment before his bout with Josh Koscheck, with the electric roar of 17,000 fans echoing through the Bell Centre, when you could almost feel the sky start to open up for him.
Daley lost a gruelling three-round decision that night, but it wasn’t the loss that would get him blacklisted from UFC. Just after the final bell, in front of a television audience numbering in the millions, Daley calmly walked over to Koscheck and sucker-punched him.
“Obviously, I feel terrible about what I did that night,” Daley says now. “In the heat of the moment, you do things you end up regretting, but I’ve apologized and I want to move on.”
While he may spend the rest of his fighting days in exile from the UFC, which holds a virtual monopoly over combat sports, the 28-year-old Englishman is an easy sell for smaller promoters.
Besides having a left hook that could knock out a horse, Daley looks exactly like a villain in a Guy Ritchie film.
He’s short, stout and has an almost perfectly round head. A deep scar extends from his right eye and towards his cauliflower ear. He has a kind of subtle, alligator grin that reveals a gold-plated front tooth, and a blunt charm and charisma that seem to typify cinematic British gangsters.
Perhaps the greatest asset Daley brings to a small-time promoter is the guarantee that he will take a healthy dose of “the old ultra-violence” into the ring with him. Daley fights with a kind of calculated madness, punctuated by feats of daring creativity: flying knees, spinning elbows, wild kicks and the willingness to trade punches liberally.
“When I step into the cage, I don’t look at it as a game with points and a scoring system. It’s a fight,” he said. “The other guy knows I’m going after him, he knows I’m trying to finish him no matter where the fight goes. I don’t think about it, I don’t get psyched up for it. I just go out there and fight the only way I know how.”
After his dismissal from the UFC, Daley signed with the organization’s main competitor, a San Jose-based organization called Strikeforce. His three-fight stint with Strikeforce provided some of the most memorable mixed martial arts moments of the past year.
His fight with top-ranked Nick Diaz, for instance, was a whirlwind of a match that saw Daley knock his opponent down twice before succumbing to punches with just three seconds remaining in the first round.
Strikeforce was eventually bought out by the UFC, sparking rumours that the league would be dismantled and raided for salvageable fighters by early 2012.
“I don’t see Strikeforce surviving more than six months,” Daley said at a press conference on Oct. 19.
“It’s unhealthy to have one company monopolize a sport. It’s like what was happening with Microsoft in the late ’90s. The government had to step in and regulate it. As a fighter, it takes away your ability to bargain for a better living. But I can’t worry about that; I’ll travel the world to beat dudes up if I need to.”
As the UFC’s stranglehold over the market tightens, Daley finds himself having to take more fights for less money on regional circuits. In the past 13 months, he has fought seven times, rarely taking a moment away from training camp and almost constantly visiting dojos across North America and Europe in order to stay sharp.
Before arriving in Montreal on fight week, Daley was living out of a suitcase in the Netherlands, where he was sparring with professional kick-boxers in preparation for his Oct. 21 bout with Luigi Fioravanti.
Daley reportedly clocked in at a whopping 210 pounds before the fight — 40 pounds above his natural fighting weight. When asked how he planned on losing that much weight just 24 hours before weigh-ins, he fired off a typical Paul Daley answer.
“No eatin’, no drinkin’, lots of shitting, sauna-ing and sitting in hot baths. I might even have to chop something off. It weighs a lot, but I’ll just leave it at that,” he said in a thick London accent.
“I’m banged up,” he admitted. “It’s rare that I’ll go into a fight completely healthy, but it’s what you have to do to remain relevant. After the Montreal fight, I’m thinking of taking some time off to heal up.”
Indeed, while warming up during a public workout on before the fight, the former contender looked worn-out — occasionally missing his coach’s focus mitts with sluggish punches, his footwork stunted by a slight limp in his knee.
But on fight night, in front of a small but ravenous Montreal crowd, Daley was on point. Ever the showman, he emerged from backstage holding a Quebec flag over his right shoulder like it was a baseball bat.
As Daley walks to the ring, he doesn’t usually mean-mug for the camera; he rarely opts for the vacant-looking thousand-yard-stare one sees in so many other fighters’ faces. On Friday, Daley was sporting the old alligator grin on his way to the cage. He even had a little swagger in his step, as though he were walking through an English disco.
The ring announcer — adorned in a pinstriped suit, with a pink tie, pink dress shirt and a Mohawk haircut — began theatrically introducing the fighters. Daley looked across the cage to Fioravanti, also a former UFC employee, shrugged his shoulders and smiled as if to say, “We might as well make the best out of this.”
Once the bell rang, Daley was completely in his element. Never mind the fact that he was matched up with a guy coming off a two-fight losing streak, fighting in a promotion sponsored by a man who calls himself “The Truck King.” He was in a fight.
Sure enough, he would step to Fioravanti with a series of hisses as he threw a six-punch combination. Every time Fioravanti fired back, Daley was already out of his range and setting up the next move.
There’s something visceral about the feeling you get from the sound of a man’s shin connecting with his opponent’s ribs. MMA is all about these moments, when your heart stops beating as a fighter leaps at his opponent, staggering him with a flying knee or an inverted elbow strike, as Daley often does.
He may not be fighting for a UFC championship, but as long as Daley can keep those sensations alive in his audiences, he should be able to find gainful employment in the fight world. Even if the stands are half-empty and the crowd is screaming, “Turn on the machine, Daley! Kill him!”
Photo: Riley Sparks/The Link