Strikeforce: Will Paul Daley’s UFC Ban Really Last a Lifetime?

Paul "Semtex" Daley

Is Paul Daley truly banned for life, or will he get a second chance?

With the Zuffa acquisition of Strikeforce and Paul Daley a couple of days away from challenging Nick Diaz for the company’s welterweight title, I thought the timing was right to revisit “Semtex” being barred for life from the UFC.

The abridged version of the story goes as follows:

Daley and Josh Koscheck engaged in a verbal sparring match leading up to their meeting at UFC 113 last May, both saying they were going to knock the other out. UFC President Dana White upped the ante by placing an Ultimate Fighter coaching position, and subsequent title shot against Georges St. Pierre, on the line as well.

For fifteen minutes, Koscheck controlled Daley with his wrestling, and after the final bell sounded, the Brit socked Koscheck in the eye with the best punch he’d landed all night. White immediately announced he was released and would never be welcomed back to the organization.

A lot has changed in the eleven months since Daley suckered “The Fighting Fraggle” back in Montreal. St. Pierre steamrolled Koscheck in their eventual meeting, Daley has posted four-straight wins, including a pair of first-round knockouts, and Strikeforce became the UFC’s latest “little brother” organization, at least for the time being.

Saturday night in San Diego, Daley has a chance to put White under the media spotlight and test his resolve. A win over Diaz would crown Daley the Strikeforce welterweight champion and give him a victory over the man White has called the best fighter competing outside of the UFC.

Without the history, that sounds like the kind of fighter White would salivate over; a knockout machine who can sell a fight with the best of them and back it up in the cage more often than naught. But you can’t erase history, though White can go back on his word if he so chooses.

Will he?

Put me behind the big desk in the President’s office at UFC headquarters and I tell Daley to find work elsewhere once his Strikeforce contract expires or their roster is absorbed, whichever happens first.

I stood by White’s decision to drop Daley at the time and my feelings on the situation haven’t changed. This wasn’t a heat of the moment situation like Michael Bisping’s “unintentional” knee to Jorge Rivera or a fighter testing positive for a banned substance; this was a Daley being unable to muster much offence against Koscheck when it mattered and taking a post-fight potshot at his foe out of frustration.

No matter how little damage it did or where you rank it on the list of wrong doings from inside the Octagon, it’s the kind of classless move that gives critics ammunition in their battle against the sport.

Steroids can’t really be held against the UFC since baseball spent the better part of a decade turning a blind eye to obvious abuse, and as much as you, me and Dupree feel Bisping most definitely knew what he was doing when he drilled Rivera with a blatant knee at UFC 127, you can’t really prove intent, and it’s as much a “part of the sport” situation as any number of violent encounters in football and hockey.

But Daley’s cheap shot was just that: an unquestionable foul committed after the allotted time for fighting was over, which makes him a thug in the eyes of the critics and seriously limited from an employment standpoint in the current MMA climate.

The Brit can say what he wants about being happy about competing off Broadway, I don’t buy it. You always want to compete against the best, and Daley’s insistence to the contrary sounds to me like a man who is too stubborn to admit he made a serious mistake. He’ll keep telling everyone who will listen that he’s satisfied competing with BAMMA and whatever regional promotion will fill his pockets, but if White came calling, I’d bet dollars to donuts that Daley would jump at the opportunity to return to the UFC, so long as he didn’t have to make a public apology and acknowledge his mistake.

Of course, I’m not White.

We’ve seen the 41-year-old leader of the UFC pull a u-turn on his ideas, comments and guarantees too many times to think that Daley is really on the outs forever, forever, ever, forever, ever.

Tito Ortiz was never going to fight in the UFC again and all it took was a “Dana is my boss” t-shirt and the realization that people will still pay to see him fight for some reason and “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” went from arch enemy to old buddy, old chum, old buddy, old pal.

Daley brings way more to the table than Tito, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see White extend an invitation to talk should “Semtex” come away from Saturday’s main event with the welterweight belt around his waist.

While I don’t think White would simply cave and let bygones be bygones, I can see him giving Daley a profanity-laced “If you ever do that again” speech before shaking his hand and opening the door for his eventual return.

Remember, up until Daley clocked Koscheck after the bell, White was a major “Semtex” supporter; he’d appeared in a couple video blogs, White talked him up as a legitimate threat in the welterweight division, and he didn’t bust his balls nearly as much over his frequent weight-cutting issues as he’s done Anthony Johnson.

That being said, Daley’s actions struck a blow to the appearance of the sport and the image of the UFC, and White doesn’t take those kinds of offenses lightly. You can do any number of stupid things and remain on the UFC roster, but making the company look bad is a no-no, and White has been pretty firm in that stance.

Daley could test his mettle starting Saturday night.

Will White hold firm or will he reverse course once again?

Only time will tell.