Paul Daley made name for himself knocking out numerous challengers in explosive fashion (hence the nickname "Semtex"). Yet it is one punch you won’t find in any CompuStrike stats that permanently changed the course of his career.
May 8, 2010
What are you kidding me? – referee Dan Miragliotta
Wow! That...that was terrible. – Joe Rogan
Readymade stars like Daley don’t come along too often: Brash and cocky. Young, but experienced. A striker and a finisher. Massive. British. The Anthony Johnson of the eastern hemisphere. Even the UFC didn’t know what they had on their hands, originally planning to have him debut on the preliminary card of UFC 103 against Brian Foster. It was a match thrown together to have something to broadcast on the UK version of ESPN.
Then Swick got hurt. Enter Semtex. The short notice didn’t matter. The fact that Kampmann was undefeated since dropping to welterweight didn’t matter. The fact that the no. 1 contender prize was now off the table didn’t matter. There was no way someone with Daley’s attitude was going to pass up on this opportunity.
The well rounded Kampmann should have eaten up the relatively one-dimensional Daley, but he looked unprepared. Perhaps he was caught off-guard by the sheer musculature of the swollen Daley. The reverse of the "camera adds ten pounds" adage. Two minutes into the fight, Kampmann was caught against the cage and Daley unloaded on him. The fight was soon waved off. Kampmann never left his feet; his senses had long left him.
I was a viewer who was seeing Daley for the first time. It only took three minutes of action to know what you were watching a fighter who was going to make headlines for years to come.
Four months later, it was Daley who would be dealing with a replacement. The Kampmann win put him on the fast track to a title shot. If he could get past Carlos Condit, the UFC might have an excuse to fly Georges St-Pierre over to England for a massive crossover fight. Condit got hurt and was replaced by Dustin Hazelett, he of the decidedly non-Daley-esque build.
It was common knowledge that Daley’s ground game was lacking. Hazelett was responsible for some of the UFC’s most picturesque submissions. The door was open for Hazelett to put himself on the map just as Daley had against Kampmann. I’m still convinced that if he’d managed to lock Daley up with this rolling attack in the opening moments of the match...
...he would have won the match right there.
(Watch that gif a few times. Daley swats at Hazelett like he’s a swarm of angry cartoon bees formed into the shape of a bearded MMA fighter. Hazelett’s bashful "well, it was worth a shot" gesture afterwards is also delightful)
The opening gambit had failed meaning that Hazelett was going to have to stand with the dangerous Daley. It went about as well as you’d expect. Another quick win for Daley. So far his opponents had lasted about as long as a Danny Brown track.
For Daley’s next fight, the gauntlet was thrown down. Beat Josh Koscheck and you’ve got your title shot. Do yourself and everyone a favour by shutting that loudmouth up. Lead the British invasion into unforeseen territory.
Daley had dealt with grapplers before, but the truth was that he’d always struggled against the elite. He’d been submitted by the likes of Pat Healy, Satoru Kitaoka and Jake Shields and Koscheck’s wrestling was on par if not superior to those three men. Grappler vs. striker was underselling this clash of styles. This was going to be like watching JJ Watt tackling a Molina brother.
Takedown after takedown after takedown ensued. Daley knew exactly what Koscheck wanted to do and there was still no way he could defend himself. Worst of all, from his perch atop Daley, Koscheck was free to lean in and talk as much trash as he wanted. After 15 minutes, two things were clear: Koscheck had won all three rounds and Daley was incensed. Dan Miragliotta let Daley cross the cage for what he assumed would be a handshake and/or a hug (though he wisely stayed right next to Daley the whole time). The sucker punch that followed actually got Koscheck right on the chin, though we can all be thankful that he seemed cognizant enough to move his head or that Daley knew to pull his punch. Either way, the results could have been far, far worse.
You can’t blame Daley for being frustrated. In less than a year, he had gone from fighting in the minor leagues to the precipice of a big money main event. Not only was that taken away from him, he was made to look foolish. At the very least, he believed he was robbed of a "real" fight. If he could have landed one punch, one good punch, everything would have been different. So he went for it.
Look, after Koscheck’s usual shenanigans (not only the borderline lay-and-pray tactics, but Koscheck’s acting that had convinced the ref of a fake foul, quickly becoming a Kos specialty), we all wanted to punch that goofy hair off of his head. But you can’t do that. If there’s one thing you can’t do in that cage, it’s to attack your opponent before or after the match. You’re getting paid good money to work within the time given; why risk going to jail for nothing?
One argument I keep seeing in favour of Daley is that others have been forgiven for graver infractions. Rampage Jackson got bailed out of jail by Dana White himself after going all CJ from San Andreas. Chris Leben and Stephan Bonnar failed multiple drug tests (Bonnar wisely retired after his most recent one). Josh Barnett, considered by most to be radioactive, was just resigned. Let’s go one by one.
In the case of Rampage, the man was still a draw. Above all things, it was a business decision. Sure, White and Rampage have a close (albeit tumultuous) relationship, but if Rampage couldn’t draw a dime anymore you better believe that White would have wished him the best in his future endeavours after springing him. Rampage made money, so Rampage stayed.
In the case of Leben and Bonnar, they benefited even more White’s affection. For the longest time, former cast members of the original Ultimate Fighter were near untouchable. They’d done so much for the business and they always put on exciting fights and blah blah blah...Leben and Bonnar are Dana’s boys, so they stayed.
In the case of Barnett, he is a heavyweight and a skilled one at that. He is a rare commodity who is a viable option to challenge for the title at some point in the future. He was also cutting wrestling promos way before Chael Sonnen. Barnett is too good to have floating around out there, so Barnett is here to stay.
One more important factor is that all of these missteps were outside of the octagon. Out of sight, out of mind as it were. That is not to say that one can break whatever rules they want as long as it’s not being broadcast by the UFC, but that their errors were not so serious as to permanently tarnish the reputation of the company they work for. If anything, there was the hope that being contrite and having the discipline needed to prepare for a professional fight would help these men exorcise their demons. Daley made the mistake of bringing his demons into the cage with him and revealing them in the ugliest possible way.
I say again, can you imagine what would have happened if Daley had actually nailed Koscheck with that punch? Knocked him out? I’ve seen my fair share of sucker punches in boxing and the results are always horrific. I doubt Daley could have hurt Koscheck that badly, but if that incident had been any worse it would have been a black mark on the business as opposed to just a footnote. Regardless, at least one person is never going to forget that night: Daley himself.
Since being released, Daley has seen mixed results. His size has proven to be both an asset and a detriment as he’s missed weight four times (including the Hazelett fight) in fifteen fights (in fairness, he has not missed weight since 2011). In those fifteen contests, he is 12-3. Gaudy as the raw numbers are, the three losses tell the story: Nick Diaz (five of the most exciting minutes in Strikeforce history), Tyron Woodley and Kazuo Misaki. Diaz and Woodley are currently in the UFC (it would be more accurate to say that Diaz is likely floating around in space somewhere, but you know what I mean) and Misaki had been facing UFC-level competition for years before retiring last March. If Daley can’t beat these guys, what is the incentive for White to take a risk on him?
The company line according to White is that they’ve had no contact with Daley (he was just released by Bellator and recently made it public on Twitter that he’d like to come back). He’s become a journeyman with lingering legal issues that may or may not be responsible for his recent Visa woes. Recent interviews would suggest that Daley has matured, but the risk is still too high and the reward too low to take a chance on the British banger. Even if White keeps certain fighters in the UFC for the wrong reasons, he’s keeping Daley out for the right ones.