In the opening round of Bellator’s Welterweight Grand Prix in Connecticut, Paul “Semtex” Daley and Michael “Venom” Page step into the cage. This fight represents a huge step for the promotion in this country being the first event broadcast as part of a brand new deal. The bad blood stems back to Bellator’s card in London in 2016, where Daley opted to fight former champion Douglas Lima instead of the Londoner Page. That same night, “MVP” broke into the larger consciousness through fracturing his opponent’s skull with a flying knee. The two men have since orbited each other, flirting with matchups whilst never quite coming together in the cage until now.
In a lot of ways, these are two fighters at significantly different points in their careers. “Semtex” represents Page’s first legitimate challenge in MMA, whereas this tournament represents the last big swing of Daley’s 58 fight career. In Daley’s last 4 fights, he has lost to the current Bellator title holder, as well as his first round opponent in this tournament. More importantly, at this point in his career, his skill set has been clearly defined; a high quality action fighter with sub-elite level defensive wrestling and grappling. This means that he can still keep going in Bellator with the right matchups to keep things interesting, but he’s unlikely to get another shot at the belt after this tournament.
‘That makes this fight perfect for the promotion, capitalising on the bad blood that has swirled around who has ducked who and who is the better fighter’
Page, on the other hand, has fought fighters primarily past whatever prime they may have had, or who were simply outmatched against a man with his past career in traditional martial arts. Now nearing his 32nd birthday, this is the time to actually try to boost his MMA career whilst he still has something of his athletic prime. That means stepping into the cage against fighters who represent real challenges. Bellator have given him an easier initial step in not putting him in there with someone who could control and threaten him on the mat, such as Jon Fitch, Ed Ruth or Neiman Gracie, who are all on the other side of the bracket. “Semtex” is a true step up in quality, but as a kickboxing based fighter he will not expose what will undoubtedly be Page’s weakest skill set. That makes this fight perfect for the promotion, capitalising on the bad blood that has swirled around who has ducked who and who is the better fighter, whilst also setting Page up with what is theoretically a more friendly matchup in kicking his career up a gear.
The key here is the theoretical aspect of Daley being a good matchup for Page. The Nottingham based fighter has a background primarily in Muay Thai with a thunderously powerful left hook, which serves as the origin of his “Semtex” nickname. He has also been training for this fight with legendary Dutch kickboxing coach Mike Passenier. This experience is why this matchup may not be what it seems. Historically, full contact rule sets in kickboxing or MMA styles based on traditional martial arts with a point scoring rule set have been particularly susceptible to Muay Thai or Dutch kickboxing styles. The straight line movement can be negated through consistent use of leg kicks, not legal under light or semi-contact rules, especially as the final part of a combination that will have a higher chance of damage due to the different defensive strategies. These styles are also lacking in combination punching, so will be more dependent on one shot knockouts, whether with the hands or legs as well as not landing the volume to win on the scorecards.
Page’s big question is that of complacency in his approach. With having never tasted defeat in professional combat sports, he may simply be just reinforcing his same approach and not considering his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. This is the sort of attitude that can lead to rough awakenings when this plan (A) doesn’t work with a total lack of plan and (B) in matchups which aren’t favourable. The fact that “MVP” primarily lost to the same opponents, including Raymond Daniels, in his martial arts career would seem to indicate that he generally just fights his style without the opponent specific approach which is necessary in high level MMA. Raymond Daniels’ kickboxing career may be a bad sign for Page’s chances in this matchup. All three of his losses have come to fighters who employed that characteristic Dutch style approach to wear him down and negate his movement and kicks.
If Daley can bridge the gap with Dutch style combinations and beat up Page’s legs, he can then potentially find the opening for the left hand over the full five rounds or simply win on the cards. He has managed this against a fighter with some similarities in terms of boxing defence and speed based footwork in Lorenz Larkin, ending up flooring him after that signature left hook in the second round. Daley’s training with coaches and sparring partners specifically for “MVP”, as well as his own career history, would seem to bode well for his chances. Page’s potential complacency and the fundamental style matchup serve even more to set the stage for “Semtex”, and render all the work done to build Page up totally irrelevant in his last big roll of the dice.