As Bellator 257 looms just one month away, so does the supposed retirement fight of one of the UK’s first MMA stars. When you hear the name Paul Daley the first things that come to mind might be his flying knee finish of Brennan Ward, his bitter rivalry with Michael ‘Venom’ Page or, slightly less, fortunately, the sucker punch after his bout with Josh Koscheck. Whatever your opinions on Paul Daley, there is no denying what an incredible career he has had, so let’s take a look back at the near eighteen-year career of a British MMA pioneer.
Paul Daley began his love of martial arts at the age of 8 when he started training in karate. However, martial arts were not Daley’s first glimpse at a professional sports career. After pressure from his school’s PE teacher to join the football team, Daley would put karate aside to play for his local county team and even playing at Nottingham Forest for a spell as a junior. Although professional football was definitely a possible avenue for Daley, it wasn’t where his true passion still lied in the fighting. After a stint in the British army, where he served in the same regiment as Prince Harry, was ended due to Daley getting into constant brawls, Daley used his discharge from the army as a way to turn his life around and rediscovered his love for martial arts and begin training in kickboxing and MMA.
Turning pro in 2003, Daley got his career off to a great start with a knockout win in his first professional bout at Extreme brawl 3. Daley would eventually make his way to cage warriors where he fought to a draw in a bid to win their welterweight title before moving to cage rage where he eventually unified the British and world welterweight belts to achieve his first MMA gold Daley would spend the next six years in the regional scene racking up a record of 20 wins 8 losses with 2 draws, 17 of those wins coming by way of KO. Among those wins was a KO win over Duane Ludwig, who at the time still held the record for fastest UFC knockout. Despite Ludwigs already impressive resumé, including fights with Jens Pulver, Josh Thompson and B.J. Penn, Daley was able to knock Ludwig out in the second round.
In 2009, Daley would finally get his shot at the big leagues with his promotional debut coming at UFC 103 in Texas against Martin Kampmann. Daley was originally scheduled to fight on the preliminary card but a Mike Swick injury would lead to Daley getting bumped up the card. Daley’s UFC run would get off to the perfect start with a round one TKO finish. Now riding a three-fight winning streak, Daley would Return less than four months later at UFC 108 with a win against Dustin Hazelett, once again finishing the fight in the first round by KO, Daley did miss weight for the fight, however, the win would set Daley up for a title eliminator with a fellow welterweight contender, Josh Koscheck. With the winner not only receiving a title shot against current champion, George St. Pierre, but also a coaching spot on the upcoming season of the ultimate fighter.
Daley’s bout with Koscheck would get off to a terrible start in the first round with Daley throwing what would have been an illegal knee had it landed, causing referee Dan Miragliotta to take a point away, even though replays showed that the knee in fact had not landed cleanly with Koscheck playing up the damage caused by the strike. This was unfortunately only the start of Daley’s troubles as he would spend the majority of the remaining time on his back being controlled by the D1 wrestler, causing great frustration. Daley would end up losing the bout by a unanimous decision. However, Daley’s frustration would, unfortunately, spillover past the fight with Daley throwing a punch to Koscheck, who was walking away from Daley, with big Dan having to restrain him. The incident would lead to an immediate firing and subsequent banning from the UFC for life
Unfortunately, Paul Daley’s UFC career will always be remembered for how it ended, as it took him from being a top contender in the welterweight division to being back on the regional scene in a matter of weeks. There will always be those questions of how Daley would have fared in the UFC after his loss to Koscheck. Would he have gotten to a title shot eventually? Could he have possibly even won gold? Unfortunately, these are questions we will never get the answers to.
For most fighters, being banned from the world’s biggest MMA organisation would spell the end of their career. However, Daley bounced back quickly with three back-to-back wins in the space of five months, including a win over the current BMF Jorge Masvidal. A fourth win in a row would bring Daley face to face with arguably the biggest test of his career as he was paired against Strikeforce champion, Nick Diaz. Diaz himself was in the middle of a career resurgence of his own, riding a nine-fight winning streak that had brought him the Strikeforce welterweight title. For Daley, this was an opportunity to not only win gold in a major promotion but to begin putting his UFC release behind him.
Unfortunately for ‘Semtex’ the stand-up skills of Diaz would be too much for him and he would be stopped with just three seconds left on the clock, falling short of gold. His next bout would be against future UFC welterweight champion and D1 wrestler Tyron Woodley. This bout would be much more competitive with Daley being able to land some big shots on the future champ, even winning the final round. It would not be enough however and Daley would lose by unanimous, putting him on a two-fight skid. Daley would continue to fight in various promotions including BAMMA, Strikeforce and finally Bellator.
Daley would have mixed results in Bellator, winning more fights than he lost but coming up short against the top contenders of the division in Douglas Lima, Rory MacDonald and Jon Fitch. It was after the Jon Fitch loss when Bellator announced their welterweight Grand Prix tournament which would see Daley take on fellow Brit and viral superstar Michael ‘Venom’ Page. The two fighters would consistently clash, with Daley calling MVP “an overrated pretty boy” and Page saying that Daley was “jealous” of his popularity. The build-up to this fight was being sold as one of, if not the, biggest ever fight in British MMA history and fans were excited to see whether Daley could put an end to the hype that followed Page. The fight was a fairly quiet bout, with Page landing some impressive looking strikes but Daley seemingly controlling most of the fight. Sadly, for Daley, MVP would take the decision victory and move on in the tournament despite most fans scoring the fight the other way.
Daley would pick himself back up yet again though in a London bout with another polarising figure of MMA in Erick Silva. Daley would dominate the fight with his striking, dropping Silva to earn a unanimous decision win in front of a home crowd. Daley’s next fight would be his most recent fight where he would score an amazing TKO early in the second round to earn back-to-back wins. This brings us to today, where Daley will be taking on Sabah Homasi in what he has called his final fight. After the fight being scrapped twice, most recently in 2020 after Daley was hospitalised for a failed weight cut, the fight has been made for Bellator 257 on April 16th. Daley will be looking to end his lengthy career on a winning note with a win over Homasi, but that would beg the question…would he actually retire?
The career of Paul Daley will always be one that divides the opinion of fans, but there can be no doubt he is one of the UK’s pioneers of MMA who was able to turn an unfortunate military career-ending into an extremely successful career as one of the most recognisable British fighters of all time who is still competing at a high level almost eighteen years after starting.