MMA fans do not have the long rich history of boxing to fall back on, but we are privileged in that we have records of the birth and early development of the sport. Tonight, one of the most important UK pioneers, Paul Daley, retired from professional MMA following his final bout with UFC alumni Sabah Homasi.
While he might not have had the career success of his contemporary Michael Bisping, nor has he built a name for himself as an analyst like his erstwhile teammate Dan Hardy, Daley exceeded both of them in the consistent quality of his fights. A ferocious striker who trained in Muay Thai and kickboxing prior to coming to MMA, Paul Daley would compile a stunning 33 knockout victories in his 42-17 career. Daley’s best weapons would prove to be his knees from the clinch and his devastating, lightning-fast left hook.
The state of the fledgeling UK MMA scene, however, meant that Daley would never really acquire anything beyond workmanlike grappling and his takedown defence often left a lot to be desired. However, when Daley was able to keep it on the feet his striking power often allowed him to decide fights with a single blow.
Paul Daley: No Stranger to Controversy
Paul Daley’s single most notorious punch, however, would come not during a fight but after the bell. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, it’s understandable – after a long UFC title eliminator match with the infamously grating Josh Koscheck where Koscheck engaged in what could charitably be described as gamesmanship, Daley clobbered Koscheck after the bell. However, act in haste, repent at leisure, and Daley was dismissed from the company immediately.
However, the dismissal from the UFC might have actually been a boon to Daley in the long run. Notoriously susceptible to good wrestlers, Daley almost certainly would have lost to a Georges St-Pierre who was entering the peak of his powers with the best double leg in the history of the sport. The division was quickly becoming overrun with other top wrestlers too. Being a free agent allowed Daley to make his name elsewhere against more favourable matchups.
Paul Daley: The Greatest One Round Fight in MMA History
It would be in Strikeforce that Paul Daley would produce perhaps his greatest legacy, the fight for the welterweight belt against Nick Diaz who was on a nine-fight win streak at the time. It would not just be pitting Daley’s kickboxing background against Diaz’s boxing experience, but it would also test the division’s hardest hitter against its toughest chin. As in the parable of the ultimate spear and the ultimate shield, the collision nearly produced mutual destruction.
Diaz backed Daley up with jabs and then went to the body as they hit the cage. But Daley responded by managing to break away and get Diaz against the cage. After a clinch, Daley hit Diaz with a left hook that set the Californian to his knees. It was the start of an explosive single round where the balance of the fight shifted multiple times. Diaz would invest heavily in the body with punches against the cage fence, while Daley would try to land single powerful left hooks. Both had each other hurt at multiple points.
With a minute and a half left to go and his back to the cage, Daley pulled out of a clinch and landed a horrendous left hook over Diaz’s jab, knocking him down once more. Few would have criticized the referee for calling a stop to the fight as Diaz lay on the ground, absorbing punches.
But Diaz withstood the punishment, eventually able to get into guard in order to catch his breath and recover. Daley’s ground-and-pound slackened and he retreated to allow Diaz to rise to his feet. With 30 seconds to go Diaz marched forward and cracked Daley with a 1-2 before throwing a wide hook to the liver. With Daley’s back to the cage again Diaz started teeing off and smashed Daley with a looping left uppercut. Daley went careening out of a clinch onto the canvas and Diaz swarmed for the finish with seconds to go.
While Paul Daley picked up notable wins over skilled welterweights like Duane Ludwig, Lorenz Larkin, Martin Kampmann and a young Jorge Masvidal, he will likely not go down in history as an all-time great welterweight. Regardless, he will definitely be remembered as one of the UK scene’s first great stars, one of the creators of the best first round fight in MMA history, and the producer of the one of the best knockout highlight reels in the sport.
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