Bellator kickboxing champion Raymond Daniels wasn’t aware, initially, of the impact he’d made with a 720 degree knockout punch at Bellator: Birmingham last May. “You know, it didn’t really hit me honestly until we got off the plane heading home, and I turned on my phone,” he told Cageside Press in an exclusive interview heading into Bellator 238 this weekend, where he’ll make his second appearance inside the Bellator cage, rather than ring.
The Birmingham bout was just his second MMA fight. He certainly wasn’t expecting that reaction. “I’m not one to believe my own hype so to speak. Then it hit me when it was on like ESPN and Sportscenter. I was like, ‘Okay, I guess they really enjoyed that one.’ It was awesome to experience, but I’ve experienced it before, when I was in Glory.” Back in Glory, of course, it was the “Knockout of the Century” against François Ambang, a two-touch knockout that really can’t be missed.
In other words, Daniels (35-3 KB, 1-1 MMA) knows he’s capable of spectacular finishes, but he’s not about to let it go to his head. “I’ve experienced it before, but I don’t like to believe in that hype or that volume or that influx of traffic,” he explained. “You see it happens to a lot of great athletes, they do something spectacular, and then it ends up going to their head a little bit. And then they lose focus on the things that are truly important. So I try not to get overwhelmed with all that.”
As a result, there was no rush for Daniels to get back in the cage. It helps, said Daniels, that he was busy getting married, another reason for the delay between the highlight knockout over Wilker Barros and his return on Saturday. “I don’t think that was even one of the coolest things I can do in the ring. That was just one that everybody hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t really a huge push to turn that around and make something off that, not at all.”
There are plenty of fighting husbands and wives at this point. Austin Vanderford and Paige Vanzant come to mind. So do Gilbert and Keri Melendez. Like many a spouse, Daniels can get a little nervous before his wife fights, even decades into his own fighting career.
“I get butterflies before I fight, and back in the day I used to get really nervous. Now I try to contain those nerves. But if she was going to fight, right before she’s going out to the ring, I have to walk away,” he said, before adding, “because I get the butterflies so bad, that I start projectile vomiting. Just because I can’t contain how nervous I am before she’s going out to fight.”
The nervousness doesn’t stop there. “I probably burn a million and one calories while she’s fighting. I’m screaming, I’m yelling, I’m sweating. I was actually more nervous to be honest for her fight than I’ve been for any of my fights.”
That said, being married to someone who understands combat sports and the sacrifices athletes make is something special. “I never knew I could have an experience like this,” admitted Daniels. “Going through dating with someone not understanding what it is you do, or why you’re weight cutting, or why you’re dieting, why you can’t do this, or why you cant stay up late, why you can’t have this drink — it’s amazing to have somebody that’s there and that supports you through the entire process. Day in and day out with you, whether it be in the gym actually training, or whether it be in the sauna sweating with you.”
It’s a blessing, said Daniels, and the first time in his life that he has felt truly balanced. “I feel complete. Just in life in general, with the addition of Colbey. It’s been great.”
When Daniels stepped into the Bellator cage last May in Birmingham, it came over a decade after his first foray in mixed martial arts — a 2008 loss against Jeremiah Metcalf in Strikeforce.
The timing of his return, said Daniels, is in part just because “the opportunity kind of presented itself for me to do it. I got a call from Bellator, Mr. Coker and everybody.” A big part of that call was the promotion’s European series, Daniels mentioned. Thanks to his kickboxing career, Daniels has a large following there. But there was more to it than that. “It was something, if you were in my inner circle, you knew it was something that had bothered me for a number of years. Because I went out there, and competed, and I didn’t prepare myself properly. So it was something that I’ve always wanted to make sure I went out to rectify, so to speak.”
“Everyone has something you did in life, and you want to go back and make a correction or a change on it,” he suggested. For Raymond Daniels, it was his misstep in MMA. “I always wanted to make sure I took the opportunity to go out there and see what I could do in the MMA world if I prepared myself properly.”
He didn’t expect to make the splash that he did in his return, mind you. But now that he’s accomplished his goal of winning and defending the Bellator Kickboxing title, Daniels is “looking onward and upward to the Bellator MMA title, while also defending my kickboxing title.”
Daniels was also able to look at other fighters making the transition, including Joe Schilling and Denise Kielholtz. “It was great to see that other people were doing it right alongside me.”
On page two, Daniels discusses what’s different about striking in MMA, his upcoming fight with Jason King, and his goals for 2020.