Within five seconds of the opening bell of his career debut, Michael Page was shimmying, shaking and dancing like no one was watching. In the middle of a fistfight. If it wasn't an open mocking of his opponent, it was certainly an effective distraction technique.
Poor Ben Dishman never had a chance. You could almost see the confusion on his face, as if he was fighting something supernatural. As if he was just another spectator. It ended about 60 seconds after it began, with Page landing a rarely seen Tornado Kick knockout.
But it wasn't just that he landed a hotshot finish; it was his reaction. Page knew the fight was over before it was actually over. He lands the kick and never moves. Even as Dishman wobbles and falls to the ground, Page stands like a statue, perfectly angled toward the photographers in front of him.
In a flash, he was an MMA phenomenon.
More than three years later, Page is still unbelievable, still undefeated and still unripe. But how long can the last of those modifiers persist?
At 8-0 and at 28 years old, Page has yet to take the plunge into the Bellator welterweight title hunt. His fight against little-known Charlie Ontiveros at Friday's Bellator 144 won't change the perception by some that the fight company is spoon-feeding Page undeserving competition. You only have to look around the MMA Twittersphere and message boards (warning: strong language) to hear various takes on the same question.
What the hell is Bellator doing with Michael "Venom" Page?
Matchmaking is ripe for criticism and often a Sisyphean task. Slow-play your hand as Bellator is doing in developing Page, and you're accused of artificially manufacturing a star. But put a constant spotlight on talent, as the UFC is doing with newcomer Sage Northcutt, and the same critics will condemn you for force-feeding the fans.
"I'm satisfied 100 percent with where I'm at," Page told Bleacher Report. "I know where I'm going. I know people are in a rush for me to be there or to find out if I'm able to be there, but I'm in no rush because I know where I'm going and where I'll get to. I'm enjoying the journey."
In a sport that promotes and rewards unbridled aggression, patience is an often undervalued attribute. Page's ability to contextualize his own career and skills progression is perhaps a trait he formed in his early days. The son of martial artist parents and the nephew of kung fu master Stan Brown, Page started his own training at three years old but says he was not a natural.
"I think most people would assume I was, but for me, it was a long process," he said.
Page entered his first kickboxing competition at age five and didn't place. By the age of eight, he got more serious about the competitive circuit, and for the next four years, he took part in weekly tournaments year-round. In all that time, he placed in exactly two competitions.
As part of a family of 10 brothers and sisters who were all involved in martial arts, Page saw it as valuable family time. Even if he wanted to win, the time spent developing had meaning.
Athletically, everything clicked when he was 12. Competing at the U.S. Open ISKA World Championships in Orlando, Florida, as one of the lowest seeds in a tournament of more than 40 competitors, Page stunned the field to win.
"It was weird. It was during the fights that things were happening that never happened before," he said. "I was blocking things that I wasn't even consciously registering. It all felt like it was happening before I had a chance to think and question it. Every step of the way, every round, it felt like that."
When he returned home to the United Kingdom, he was suddenly destroying all the kids who used to beat him. By the time he was 13, he was so good that he gained his father's permission to compete against adults. And in that, he was so successful so quickly that he began adding the flash that has become his trademark.
"I believe if I was to try to be a conventional fighter and put my hands up, I'd probably get knocked out," he said. "I always knew if I was going to have to do it any way, it had to be my way; otherwise, it wouldn't suit me."
Whatever Page found that day in Orlando never left him, but his methodical MMA beginning has been an attempt to recapture that feeling in a new environment. Incorporating wrestling and jiu-jitsu into such a unique style is no overnight addition. As during his childhood, it has taken time. He's about there now, saying his time training with London Shootfighters has filled him with confidence and allowed him to automatically respond to the new situations he sometimes faces.
His plan is to beat Ontiveros—with a highlight-reel stoppage, of course—and then win one more time in December before chasing the Bellator title.
"I've never been in a competition I didn't want to win, ever," he said. "And having the belt means you're winning, so... "
His words trail off there because he doesn't need to say anything else. He knows there are critics to both his style and his career path. Both are a bit unconventional. All that shimmying and shaking, the hands down, the dancing feet, the slow build—it's all going to draw eyes, and sometimes fire.
We want entertainment but not disrespectful flash. We want stars to build organically but not too slow or too fast. Everything must be in some perfect balance that only exists in fantasy.
Page hears your complaints, but he's going to keep following the Bellator way. Remember, he's the guy who sees the punches before they're coming and the end before it arrives, and what he envisions coming soon is big.
"It's about being absolutely everywhere and dominating what you do," he said. "I want to be in films, I want to model. I want people when they think of MMA, to think of me first. I want to continue impressing people when I'm doing what I'm doing in the cage. It's the whole package. It's everything."
So, what the hell is Bellator doing with Page, anyway? As it turns out, just waiting for things to click.
"I don't think it's that far at all," he said. "Doing it this way, I know I'm deserving, and I know I won't disappoint."