Paul ‘Semtex’ Daley is glad to be home.
That might sound strange in light of the fact the Bellator welterweight fought in London, England only last year, but it’s the truth. His fight this Friday (May 19) against Rory MacDonald at Wembley Arena isn’t just in his home country, it’s a stone’s throw from the Park Royal hospital in which he was born.
His last appearance in England, July 2016, just wasn’t the same. It was at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, for one, and therefore not across the road from his auntie’s Jamaican restaurant. It was also a night that ended in setback for Daley, as now-Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima handed him his first defeat – via decision – since 2013.
Friday, he hopes, will be different. Already it feels different.
“I’ve had some of the best moments of my career at Wembley Arena,” Daley says. “Being a young 23-year-old and fighting in front of 10,000 people on the old Cage Rage promotions… I was a world champion there.
“The timing is right for me to come back and sort of come full circle. I’m back on a big show in front of the home crowd, in familiar territory. The O2 Arena was great but I’d never fought at the O2 before and, to be honest, I felt really uncomfortable. I felt more comfortable fighting in America.
“Wembley, though, the whole area, it’s familiar. I have family across the road. My auntie has a Jamaican restaurant across the road, my cousin lives around the corner, my coach is just up the road. I know the area and the arena and I’m looking forward to taking it back to my youth and entertaining and knocking Rory out.”
It’s all about comfort for Daley from this point on. So it should be, too. ‘Semtex’, a veteran of 55 professional MMA fights, has certainly earned the right to take things in his stride in 2017; he’s near enough faced every style out there, competed on just about every promotion around the world, and is now, at the age of 33, as good as he’s ever going to get.
“I’m a much more comfortable fighter,” he says. “I’m happier with the way I prepare for fights. I enjoy the whole process. I’ve come to realise I have the big advantage over the majority of guys I fight in that I’ve had so many fights in kickboxing and MMA. I’m taking that onboard now and I acknowledge that. It has brought me to a certain comfort level where I feel like I’ve fought every type of fight you can give me in MMA or kickboxing.
“I really just have to just go in there and fight. I don’t have to think about anything. I’ve had my back against the wall, I’ve been knocked down and got up again, I’ve done everything. All I have to do is go and fight and finish the guy.”