Michael Page vs. Paul Daley headlines Bellator 216 this February 16, 2019 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut
One sentence summary
David: Now war is declared, and the battle come down.
Phil: Its the biggest fight in UKMMA history, stealing the coveted crown away from when Tom Watson beat up a topless model’s boyfriend in BAMMA.
Record: Michael Page 13-0 | Paul Daley 40-16-2 Draw
Odds: Michael Page -225 | Paul Daley +185
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: There’s one one for every occasion: the brilliant-looking striker who looks like his striking is good enough to knock out one of Dana White’s golden boys. Because of this, these guys receive more hype than they deserve. Marius Zaromskis. Zelg Galesic. Andre Dida. Mamed Khalidov. Kotetsu Boku. Melvin Manhoef. Paul Daley. Raymond Daniels. Etc. Granted, this is a limited list. And some of these fighters were quite good outside the UFC. And also, sometimes you get guys like Gegard Mousasi. That’s ultimately the question about Michael Page. He hasn’t just been a highlight reel. He’s looked like a phenom. His mannerisms in the cage are almost hypnotic. It’s fitting then, that he’s facing off against someone was never as low as a Galesic, but never as high as Mousasi. A win will — in my opinion — tell us a lot.
Phil: Michael Venom Page is perhaps MMA’s only prospect who has been treated with the same care that his equivalent in boxing might have been. And perhaps, to be a bit uncharitable, even a bit more softly than that. If you look back down his Bellator record it’s... it’s hard to say who the best guy on it is. Cyborg maybe? David Rickels isn’t a bad fighter at all, at lightweight. Nah-Shon Burrell managed to have clinchy, ugly fights with both Page and Wonderboy Thompson, leaving him as perhaps the most consistently light damager of hype that we’ve seen. Still, it’s made for a pretty awesome hype reel, and now that he’s headed into the Bellator welterweight tournament, it’s impossible to argue that we’re not finally going to get to see just how good he is.
David: I’ll never forget the abject hypocrisy of Dana White scolding Daley for throwing a Jake Shields-jab at a ref, and then kicking him out like Paul were nothing more than a TUF fighter who was capable in the cage, but not in a limo. It was a boneheaded moment for Daley. But also inconsistent in terms of punishment. He’s only lost seven fights since then — going back to 2010 — and he’s fought a lot. Daley hasn’t reinvented himself or anything. But he’s gone to the dance what brought him: one of the most savage left hooks in the game.
Phil: Paul Daley has been equal parts road warrior and author of his own misfortune. He was cut from the UFC after punching Josh Koscheck after the bell, and then wandered around various organizations and countries taking on opponents of variable quality. He (almost) guaranteed good fights, so he could make decent money as an action fighter, and if he had a tendency to miss weight, then that was part of the risk you took in getting a “UFC veteran” who wasn’t shot. His run at Bellator has been mildly surprising: I would have thought we were getting firmly into the stage of his career where he was just in it for a paycheck, but we’ve seen more discipline and guts than we had any right to expect. His fight with Douglas Lima was great, and he knocked out Lorenz Larkin, which stands as one of his best wins. As surprises goes, it’s been a nice one.
What’s at stake?
David: Bragging rights, and geography might. This is definitely a match made to test Page’s progression. Organizations would always prefer to promote a big-time striker, so I can’t imagine Bellator isn’t looking at Page like Daley With a Higher Ceiling.
Phil: The people who care about MMA in England are moderately hyped about this one, and there are regional rivalries at stake. London vs Nottingham, two regions that have been at each other’s throats ever since Robin Hood got King John in a kimura and refused to let him go.
Where do they want it?
David: The comparisons of Michael Page to Anderson Silva are not without merit. But Page is not the Greta Van Fleet to Silva’s Led Zeppelin. He’s more like the early-Rival Sons to Led Zeppelin. Unlike the former, the latter has enough going on that they’re capable of adapting, and revealing something other than by-the-number imitation. Silva was always very thorough in his general strategy: counter, or pressure an opening. Page, with his sinewy frame, has a different approach: fling, or gallop out. His style is closer to a fencer than a proper MMA striker. His strikes are all thrust, lunge, and feint rather than jab, cross, and overhand. It’s far closer to “disruption” — at least for those who take this idea seriously to begin with — than Conor McGregor telekinetically imparting MMA wisdom onto boxing mechanics. But that doesn’t speak to the style’s efficacy. We don’t know what Page looks like against elite competition. All I can say for sure is that at 6’3, he’s got the perfect frame at welterweight to make his style incredibly difficult to deal with. Part of what makes him virtually impossible to deal with is that his blazing speed moves forward, backward, and side to side. The other thing that makes him unique is the raw awkwardness of his demeanor. This statement explains why I’m not a fighter, but if a I were a fighter, I’d be scared shitless of his ringu-like mannerisms.
Phil: Page comes from a point-fighting background and it shows. Of all the many, many “Next Anderson Silva”s to be nominated over the years, he is perhaps the only one who looks even more spidery than the original, and he makes himself look even longer by fighting out of a deliberately elongated side-on karate pose. Much like Wonderboy, the main point is to give himself time and space to line up the rear hand shot. Another comparison might be Conor McGregor, albeit even more exaggerated. The same basic premise is there: an awful lot of showboating and waving of limbs to pull people forward and make them overcommit into a shot so that he can send the big power straight down the middle. Not for Page the quick, efficient bolt of McGregor’s cross, though: Instead it’s all about covering as much distance as quickly and shockingly as possible. What we’ve seen of his grappling has been fine: he has a knack for jumping on subs quickly, as many finish-minded fighters do, and has been able to shuck off the takedowns of the (admittedly not great) wrestlers we’ve seen thus far. He can kick, and has a leaping jab he occasionally uses if the opponent becomes absolutely fixated on the right.
David: There’s nothing unique or complicated about Daley’s game. Like a well-directed British crime flick, Daley’s heist is victory with a punch you know is coming: the left hook. With a wide base, and stiff stance, Daley varies his posture so that his left hook isn’t always some looping punch coming from the left side. Sometimes it shoots straight (like the left he landed on Larkin after cracking him with a spinning back fist) off the jab, or with a full chamber. Daley has worked hard to make everything else count so that the left hook lands organically. He’s a great fighter at what he does.
Phil: If Page is all about the right hand, Daley is about the left hook. He was perhaps the most specialized of a particular breed of UK fighters that came about in the late ‘00s, men who came into the big overhand / double leg school of striking popularized in the states with the boxer’s mantra that the best shots were the jab and the left hook. Ross Pearson and Dan Hardy had their best moments with sneaky left hooks, but the man who made it his own was Hardy’s former teammate, Daley. He could occasionally fall in love with it, but when you saw him ding poor Scott Smith with it four consecutive times you could see why. His takedown defense has remained his primary weakness, but it’s one that Page is unlikely to test. Instead, his best hope probably comes from the kickboxing background: kick away at the lead leg, and try and draw Page onto his own big shot.
Insight from past fights
David: I’ve seen two fights that made me question whether Page’s quality of competition has inflated his record. Obviously, there’s the Fernando Gonzales fight. Which is important because Gonzalez has Daley’s meat and potato striking style minus the ridiculous left hook. The other was his kickboxing win over Jefferson George: a fighter who got brutally knocked out in the 2nd round, but who occasionally pressured Page by not getting caught up in his theatrics, landed some solid leg kicks, and did well when he wasn’t backing up or being backed up. If Daley is any combination of those two men, Page is in for a rude awakening.
Phil: Jeremie Holloway. He nominally shows that Page also had a submission game to back up the striking (toe hold!), but it’s also notable that they only got there because Holloway knocked Page down. Leaping through air to punch people is uncommon, but it’s uncommon for a reason.
David: Nothing comes to mind.
Phil: Can’t think of any. Of the two, I suspect Daley is far more likely to get emotional, whereas Page is an infinitely more natural and comfortable troll. I will say that it’s a shame that the fight wasn’t in the UK, because the atmosphere would have been tremendous.
David: Seeing Page get successfully attacked down low, and watching him neutralize himself up high in occasion makes me think Daley is in perfect position to “expose” Page. As in, Page losing will say more about the matchup than whether Page can remain a successful, entertaining fighter. Paul Daley by Decision.
Phil: At this stage I would have expected Daley to be shot, but he’s still putting out great performances, albeit while losing to people that he literally always would have lost to. As such, I’m still just not sure that I trust Page. Daley has too much kickboxing experience, and he can break Page’s legs down and probably take his shots better than anyone else Page has fought. Paul Daley by TKO, round 2.