Team Rough House knockout artist Paul Daley suffered a switch in opponents that surely shifted the flavor from sweet to sour. Evangelista Santos, who is normally content to handle his business standing, was swapped for D1 All American wrestler Tyron Woodley. The bout is one of four that will supplement the main event featuring Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson on Saturday's Strikeforce card.
The match up can be boiled down to a striker vs. grappler affair, but with many important disclaimers. Though his voracious wrestling might be the proven antidote to Daley's poisonous Muay Thai, Woodley has yet to encounter a stand up technician of Daley's caliber. While Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields both buried the Brit's volatile striking under ceaseless waves of stifling ground control, they are among the elite of MMA's 170-pound wrestlers.
Daley continues to reinforce his takedown defense and ability to scramble back to his feet, so Woodley still has his work cut out for him if he can ground the fight. Finally, Woodley's striking is far better than your typical college wrestler with just over two years of MMA experience, allowing him to set up his takedowns and also fake level drops to open holes in Daley's standing defense.
Even though Daley has won eight of his last ten and his two defeats were by top-ten welterweights, a loss to Woodley after the admirable momentum he's built in the last few years would be crippling to his reputation and relevancy. Check out the in-depth analysis after the jump.
Let's get this out of the way: yes, Paul Daley lost to Nick Diaz in a striking match. I would still put him as one of the most technical and powerful strikers in the weight class. The sequence to the left is a friendly reminder that Semtex sent the bulletproof-chinned Diaz sailing face-down on the canvas.
I completely agree with the referee letting it go, however, if he had intervened after that series of unanswered right hands while Diaz was just covering up and still laying flat, it would not have been the worst stoppage we've seen.
I might even go so far as to suggest that Semtex has the best left hook in the sport. Note that, in most of these exchanges with Diaz, Daley is constantly cutting subtle angles and circling to nine and three o'clock before unloading the cannons.
Staying in motion and never locking horns dead-on is even more critical when fending off an oncoming grappler. Daley's textbook stance, footwork, grasp of distance and choice of short, cleaving combinations is highly conducive to an effective sprawl. If he does get hung up in the clinch, he's also an excellent in-fighter with sharp elbows and brutal knees.
Though he achieves the desired result in the examples above, the means he takes to get there are not advisable against Woodley. Standing stationary and lobbing meathooks with his back pressed to the fence is the exact position Woodley will try to force him into. Every time Diaz steers him backward and initiates a clinch, Daley does bob under and circle to a new vantage point, but Woodley will cover more ground and won't be looking to dirty box in close quarters.
Despite being a freestyle wrestler, Woodley's clinch and Greco Roman arsenal is almost as effective as his singles and doubles from outside. If he's able to contain Daley and join his hands together in the body lock position, he's going to rip Daley off his feet.
When he fought Tarec Saffiedine, the instances where he cornered and clinched brought him the most success. His takedown prowess was evident, but Saffiedine warded off his share of attempts and also scurried back to his feet to negate them. I would assess Daley's skills in these aspects to be a level above Saffiedine's, or at least equal.
There is a misnomer that the sprawl-and-brawl fighter must be retreating, but they can still go on the prowl. The forward momentum increases the risk of the takedown, but putting the wrestler on the defense by initiating aggressively can still be effective as long as it's measured carefully.
The animation above displays the all encompassing power of Woodley's clinch game, and the version to the right shows how a fighter can maintain forward pressure and balance without succumbing to the takedown.
Woodley has more work to put in to enforce his strength -- like avoiding the swatting left hands, setting up the position for a throw or shot, then keeping Daley there and doing something meaningful if he can execute it -- but he also has more options to feint with to keep Semtex guessing.
He can alternate between composed advances in short intervals and exploding straight forward, from walking Daley down to tie him up in the clinch or exploding for a traditional takedown from outside, and can play a little game by mixing it all together in odd patterns with some stiff strikes thrown in the mix. Kevin Randleman's legendary knockout of Mirko CroCop was made possible by launching forward while faking a takedown and then landing a massive left when the Croatian dropped his hands to sprawl, so the more unpredictable Woodley is, the more trouble he'll be to defend.
I think it will be a chore for Woodley to both control Daley and mount effective offense on the mat. He'll have to be largely control-minded to keep the Brit from squirming free or scooting back to the fence to use it to stand, and with that course of action being received so sourly from fans, it can be a tough option to exercise.
The betting lines hold Woodley as a drastic favorite at the time of writing, ranging from +200 to +220. While there's no question he could win, I don't find his chances to be that likely. I see the fight about even with just as much of a challenge within the bad style match up resting on Woodley's shoulders. I'm going to throw out a guess that Daley's elite striking and movement will be too much and that his scrambling ability will give him enough time to take over. The realization that Woodley can't hang with Semtex on the feet will sink in stronger as time passes, and if he can't hit the homerun, Daley should be able to light off enough memorable fireworks to steal more rounds.
My Prediction: Paul Daley by TKO
Gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com