Paul Daley continued to look impressive in the UFC with another exciting finish, beating Dustin Hazelett by knockout at 2:24 of the first round. Daley won Knockout of the Night honors and firmly established himself as a top contender to Georges St. Pierre's welterweight title.
Mixed martial arts is growing exponentially around the world. One of the most important markets to Dana White and the UFC is the United Kingdom. It is the gateway to the expansion of the sport to the rest of Europe.
After showing an explosive side to his skills that Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy have not, has Daley now passed his countrymen as the face of the sport in his home country and continent?
For the past few years, Michael Bisping was the face of the sport in the UK. He seemed on the fast track to a title shot after having dropped down to middleweight from the light-heavyweight division. A crushing loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 sent Bisping back to the middle of the pack in the division.
He was able to rebound from the loss to Henderson with a TKO win over Denis Kang at UFC 105 in November. He'll next face the legendary Wanderlei Silva in February at UFC 110. A win over Silva would keep him in the upper-echelon of middleweight fighters, but a loss could cause him to get lost in the shuffle of the division.
It would effectively end his run as a big-name draw for the company, even in his home country.
Dan Hardy is undefeated in his four UFC fights and will face welterweight champion St. Pierre at UFC 111 in March. However, most fans and pundits give Hardy little chance at dethroning the champion and feel he is receiving his title shot when he may not be ready for it.
Although Hardy has won all four of his fights, he has hardly looked like the next big thing in the sport. Three of his four bouts went to the judges' scorecards. The only fight he ended was a knockout of Rory Markham at UFC 95.
Hardy will also have to deal with fighting on foreign soil at UFC 111. He has a 2-3 record fighting outside of Europe, including 0-2 when fighting on American soil. It will be the biggest fight of his career, while saying nothing of fighting possibly the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Daley, on the other hand, has now defeated two highly thought of welterweight contenders. Martin Kampmann was thought to be just one victory away from a title shot before Daley beat him. No one in the division has more respected jiu-jitsu skills than Dustin Hazelett, but Daley stayed away from him and was able to dispose of him in quick fashion.
Both Bisping and Hardy are very good fighters, but neither possesses the one-punch, knockout power that Daley does. It is that danger that puts him above both fighters and makes him a legitimate threat to GSP.
If built up the right way, a St. Pierre-Daley fight could do huge business for the UFC. The two could be opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. Daley could captain Team Europe, while GSP takes charge of Team North America. Fighters from both continents would help open up markets that the UFC hasn't been to before.
The fight between the two would be a great match-up. Daley's heavy hands and quickness would be a realistic threat to the champion. GSP hasn't had to fear an opponent's punching power like he would with Daley. The champion has faced great strikers but never someone that could take his belt with one punch, including Matt Serra.
Paul Daley still has time to grow as a fighter before he challenges for a title. Dana White is always looking for the next big star and someone that can make him a lot of money. Daley may very well be that fighter that enables him to grow the sport and take the next step in Europe.
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