The fireworks failed to fizzle, but it was intriguing nonetheless. Four years in the making, the grudge fight between British mixed martial artists Michael Page and Paul Daley – both renowned strikers – ended as something of a stalemate here in the headline event on Saturday night.
That’s not to say it was not intriguing. It was. But it was a chess match of deep proportions, lacking the explosive qualities that have made the two welterweight fighters favourites with the fans, and carrying them to this point.
Page took the five round fight 48-47 on all three judges cards, and now progresses, still unbeaten, to the semi final of the Bellator welterweight tournament, where he faces a truly stern test against former 170lb champion Douglas Lima.
“I came to fight, he didn’t,” said Page afterwards . “He said he was coming for the knockout, but he lied. He never wanted to engage, and just clung on to me. I’m disappointed because I always want to please the fans, and I’m always looking to finish.”
Page needed to win the last round on my cards, after the two fighters went 2-2 after four rounds.
It was a very very cagey affair at the start. Very cagey. The two men danced. And danced. And danced. Page stalked. Daley stayed away, circling the periphery of the combat arena for almost the entire first round, not landing a single blow, while his rival landed one jab and two kicks to the body.
By the second round, Daley had reversed the plan, looking to take Page to the ground, where his skillset, as a pirouetting, dangerous kickboxer, are not on the same level. In some ways, it was a smart move by Daley , who could not close the distance comfortably in the stand-up.
In MMA, fans and fighters always talk about expecting the unexpected. This was one of those nights, one of those fights. Page, unhappy, reckoned that they will have to fight again. Time will tell on that.
Page and Lima will meet in Rosemont, Illinois, on May 11 in the first semi-final of the welterweight tournament.
The event is headlined by Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler taking on the fight league’s incumbent featherweight king Patricio Pitbull.
MVP vs Daley: how the fight unfolded round by round:
Very, very cagey. A stand-off. So much so the sold-out arena crowd is booing. Two body kicks and a jab landed by MVP. Daley landed nothing.
Such a tense fight. Little engagement. MVP lands kick to body. Daley still circling. Daley pursues and ties MVP up on the cage. They break. Daley shoots and they are down again…
Why does this so often happen with much-anticipated fights…? Daley round, gets Page down, works some shots and an explosion on the feet. Page stumbled backwards.
Daley now stalking the aggressor. MVP on the move, circling. MVP lands jab, overhand right. Daley looking for takedown again. Good takedown by Daley. Winging left hooks from Daley…
MVP starts jabs and body shots. Effective. Daley game plan is based on takedown as he cant get inside Page force field on the feet. An intriguing fight. Daley on top. They are up. Both spin. Flying knee from Page. Daley looked stunned. They tie up. They go to ground with MVP on top. He lands few elbows one left hand. Replays of flying left knee landing.
Daley gets takedown once more. Elbows, scream his fans. Daley on top, throws lefts and rights, they are up… with 2:33 to go… it’s a battle of fitness and desire now. MVP chops with elbow, gets back of MVP has rear naked choke but fails to complete…
MVP has Daley’s back and controlling and looking for finish … This is going to be controversial… that round was Soooo back and forth.
Gareth A Davies card: MVP 48-47.
There was no hand shake before. No embrace afterwards. Post-fight, Daley took to Instagram to share his disappointment with the judges’ decision, accusing Bellator of ‘protecting’ Page.
“I’m disappointed, MMA politics and Bellator protecting their investment. I feel I won 3 rounds to 2. IMO I beat that fool. Really. Close fight,’ wrote Daley. “It’s just sad MMA is going the way of Boxing. I’m a “striker” who wrestled so I lose, and the fool they pumped money into wins. I look forward to getting home to my family and normality.”
There were also a considerable number of observers making the case that Daley stole the fight with his takedowns in the final round. Royce Gracie told The Telegraph that Daley “fought a smart fight”, yet it was not the stalemate fans had expected, as the Bellator 216 main card was aired live on Sky Sports for the first time.
Scott Coker, the president of Bellator, told The Telegraph: “That’s what happens sometimes in these fights. It’s just how they play out. Of course we always want a striking duel, but things happen in there to influence them. You could never have predicted that was going to happen.”
There were two controversial heavyweight results before the Daley-Page denouement on the 250-acre casino resort site of the Mohegan Tribe.
Coker confirmed that heavyweight Cheick Kongo has become the No 1 challenger for the fight league’s heavyweight belt held by dual division belt holder Ryan Bader. The two men exchanged barbs in “foul French” on social media yesterday.
The Frenchman Kongo moved to an 8-fight winning streak with a controversial decision victory – 29-28 in my notebook, by dint of a very strong last 40 seconds in the third round, yet bizarrely 30-27 and 29-28 twice on the official cards – over thus far unbeaten Vitaly Minakov, who was bidding to recapture the Bellator heavyweight title that he had never lost inside the cage.
He was stripped of the title following his switch from Bellator MMA to Russian-based organisation Fight Nights Global in 2015.
Odd scoring too, in the co-main event. Pride and K1 legend Mirko CroCop, of Croatia, making his debut with Bellator, won an unpopular decision victory over ‘Big Country’ Roy Nelson. CroCop’s three round points decision was greeted by derision in the arena by the American fans.
It could easily have gone 29-28 to Nelson, so when one judge scored it 30-27 to CroCop, the result was heavily critiqued. Nelson loped away looking – rightly – mighty unhappy. He has lost seven of his last eleven contests.
Valerie Loureda, meanwhile, a former US Olympic team tae kwon do fighter, claimed her first victory at flyweight in a entertaining and high profile professional debut, halting Colby Fletcher by technical knockout in the opening round after a vicious assault, flooring her foe and following up with a rapid succession of strikes.