The rivalry between Bellator MMA’s British brawlers Paul Daley and Michael “Venom” Page was nonexistent when Daley returned to the promotion in 2014.
“We were friendly, good colleagues, you know,” Daley said. “The type that you’d go on a coffee break with but not the type that you’d ring on the weekend to do something.”
Page agreed, “That’s one thing he’s probably being straight with. He probably could’ve had a coffee, but I’m more of a hot chocolate fan.”
The pair finally meet on Saturday, not in a café but in the cage, facing off in the quarterfinals of Bellator’s welterweight grand prix tournament at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. The fight will air in the United States exclusively on DAZN.
Anticipation for the bout has built in recent years as Daley, a veteran from Nottingham, England, and Page, an up-and-coming unbeaten Londoner, have worked their way through the 170-pound division while trading verbal barbs.
While Page (13-0) said he’s had this fight on his radar for years as tensions have grown, Daley (40-16-2) downplayed their feud, and neither fighter wanted to take responsibility for perpetuating the conflict.
“It’s a rivalry for him but it’s not for me,” Daley said. “For me, it’s just a fight.”
The men coexisted without issue until a comment made by Daley in a 2017 post-fight interview put off the rising Page.
“I mentioned something after a fight when the interviewer said, ‘What do you think of Michael Page? Do you want to fight him?’” Daley said. “I was like, ‘Michael Page isn’t on my radar, he’s Adrien Broner, I’m Floyd Mayweather. It’s not that he’s not skilled or not talented, but he’s not in my sights.’ He didn’t like it and that’s where his rivalry started.”
Page said he didn’t plan to start anything with Daley and simply has been defending himself since the Broner comparison.
“I didn’t really start it, he kind of spoke negatively of me and I found it quite disrespectful. It was at that very moment that I decided, ‘Let’s fight.’ I didn’t really hear anything back so I started attacking him on social media to spark a response, but it still took bloody ages for it to happen,” Page said.
“It’s all instigated from his side, I just wanted to follow up on it.”
Either way, “MVP” didn’t appreciate the remarks, both for their content and the manner in which they were delivered.
“Any time we were together, it was cool, there was no problem, and this is why I found it so disrespectful,” Page said. “In the interview that for me sparked it all, he was being very belittling of me, and he hadn’t said it before. If he had said it before, I can kind of laugh about it because then I have my chance to have a little back and forward and there’d be no animosity, but I just felt it was said behind my back when we had multiple chances to do it in front of each other.”
Looking back, Daley believes Page’s reaction was telling.
“If that comment can generate that much emotion in him, he’s got problems already,” Daley said. “I was always willing to take the fight, it was just a matter of timing and everything in place. He should be happy, look at the platform we’re on now. It could’ve been done too early, it could’ve been in Wembley, but now we’re on DAZN, we’re on Sky Sports, it’s part of the welterweight tournament, we’re probably both getting paid more than what we would have three years ago.”
When the welterweight grand prix presented itself, Page knew he wanted Daley in the first round, both to settle their feud and because of the actual matchup in the cage. “MVP” complimented Daley’s power, specifically his left hook, as well as his 58 fights of experience, including many against top competition. But Page, who believes Daley is “childish” and lacks composure in the cage, plans to pressure Daley and make it impossible to land the one clean shot that could end the fight.
“Let’s say he did win the fight, in that time he’d have to be able to receive a lot of punishment without reward first,” Page said. “Can he go through that and stay composed? I don’t believe he can.”
Daley had his own praise for Page, but believes there are weaknesses only he can exploit, albeit without saying what those weaknesses are.
“He’s a fantastic fighter, he’s fast, he’s unorthodox. He’s a very, very good fighter, but certain fights are bad for certain people, and I’m just bad for him without highlighting his weaknesses,” Daley said. “I feel this is just a bad matchup for him. I’m everything that he doesn’t want in front of him.”
Daley said he’ll be happy with a win no matter how it comes, but hoped for a knockout to appease “a lot of people who would like to see him flat and unconscious.”
With plenty of time over the past few years to ponder how the fight will play out, Page isn’t ready to let Daley by without some suffering.
“First round, just absolutely demoralize him. I need him to walk back to the corner and both himself and his coaches just don’t know what to say. ‘Keep throwing that kick that’s not landing, don’t worry, it’s going to come.’ Because they don’t know what to do with me,” Page said. “Once I see that’s in his head and he walks back out, I’d be happy to finish the fight for him. But until he realizes that I am on another level, that fight will go on and he will continue to get tortured.”