Every time that I talk to Raymond Daniels I walk away with different stuff to consider and let germinate. Because Bellator Kickboxing’s Raymond Daniels at his core isn’t like a lot of other fighters who step into the ring as a professional, instead he’s rather grounded and his world outside of the ring looks very different compared to most. His life doesn’t revolve around training for his next fight or chasing that next high, instead his life revolves around his time in the dojo and training the next generation of martial artist. A big part of that is instilling the core tenets of martial arts into their daily lives and showing that while martial arts can be violent, but that violence doesn’t define a martial artist.
“I keep those parts of me very separate,” he explained, “most of my students don’t know my other life at all, or that I fight professionally. To them I’m just sensei. A few of them have seen me fight on TV and they were surprised, or would say, ‘that’s not sensei, he doesn’t act like that.’ They are just very different parts of my life. Some of my students have come out to see me fight, like at my last fight in Las Vegas, but what I’m teaching them is entirely different.”
It’s this duality that has helped to define Raymond Daniels and set him apart from other fighters. He understands that being a professional fighter means being marketable both in and out of the ring. If you’ve heard Raymond Daniels talk when hyping up a fight you know that he doesn’t shy away from doing press and actually tends to enjoy himself. Not that he’s talking a lot of trash, but he’s more than willing to put himself out there and talk about his growth as a fighter, how people have overlooked him or expectations.
As for expectations, to say that his are high heading into his fight with Francesco Morrica at Bellator Kickboxing’s inaugural event is an understatement. “You know, that first knockout that I got against Francois Ambang? They called that the ‘Knockout Heard Around the World,’ and while that’s good and all, I want to do more than that. I want it to be heard throughout the whole universe. I have some moves up my sleeve, stuff that nobody has seen before in kickboxing and I know how to land them. All respect to Morrica, he’s got great hands and fights that Dutch style, but it’s nothing that I haven’t dealt with before and I want this to be the ‘Knockout Heard Throughout the Universe.’ I want it to put Bellator Kickboxing on the map.”
Daniels remained respectful of his opponent, but throughout his short professional career he has fought some of the very best in the world already, including two tough fights against Nieky Holzken, the current GLORY Welterweight Champion. Twice Daniels had to watch Holzken celebrate, but the second time he was prepared for the fight and was up on the scorecards heading into the third before a cut from Holzken pushed officials to stop the fight.
“That was my first ever cut, you know that?” He said. “I have never been cut in a fight like that before, and it just so happened to be in one of my biggest fights and be enough to stop the fight. I was winning those first two rounds and I would say that I was winning the third as well until that happened. But it’s just made me itch to get back in the ring all that much more now.”
On the topic of Holzken, when asked if he was upset that he wouldn’t get another crack at him, he seemed to be at peace with it. “You know, I’d love to fight Nieky again. I feel like I’ve come so far and that last fight showed so much, but what can you do? If it happens, it happens. You can never say never, situations change and maybe we’ll get to fight again. But regardless, I wish him the nothing but the best in his career. He just came off of a pretty controversial win, right? Over Groenhart. I think that he’s already got his hands full as it is.”
Daniels sets off on a new journey for himself, though, in this new chapter of his career in Bellator Kickboxing. Much like we’ve heard from other fighters who have made their way to the promotion, there were some important factors for him. “Spike TV is really a great platform,” he said, “it’s in just about every home that it can be here in the States and is available in other places as well. I think that we can really build an audience and build the sport here, especially with Scott Coker at the wheel. “
The subject of Coker seems to be one that comes up often with fighters who are fighting for him. Not because Coker is a commanding figure who demands respect or reverence, but because of his work ethic and history. “I’ve worked with Scott before, I know Scott and we’ve gotten to sit down a bunch and talk. We’ve both that that traditional martial arts background and I think that’s important. Scott has that Midas Touch, you know? Everything he touches turns to gold because he’s a leader and he’s not afraid to take control and lay out his vision for everyone. That’s important and he’s built up more champions and stars than people want to give him credit for. He was the guy that got me my first professional fight in K-1.”
Indeed back when Scott Coker was in charge of K-1 USA he was the first to book Raymond Daniels as a professional in a bout that saw Daniels walk away with a TKO victory. The allure of traditional martial arts is something that has mostly been forgotten in a lot of professional combat sports, but is something that Daniels hopes to help bring back in Bellator Kickboxing alongside Scott Coker.
“If you look at MMA,” he said, “you have guys fighting inside of a cage and while they took parts of martial arts, they cherry picked what they took and left out the peaceful parts of it. If you don’t know what it is and just tune in, it looks almost animalist and brutal. When the Gracies first introduced everyone to jiu-jitsu it opened some eyes and helped to at least change that view for a while, but that’s sorta been lost along the way. I’m hoping that kickboxing can sort of bridge that gap. If I have to take that weight onto my shoulders then so be it.”
We talked about the careful blend that it would take to help bolster the popularity of kickboxing in America. Kickboxing saw some popularity here in the 70’s and 80’s before scandal and disparate, confusing rule sets pushed it aside. While GLORY has made some strides towards making the sport more popular, their approach still feels a bit foreign and different to a lot of fans. “Right, like people don’t realize that kickboxing has a long history, that it was around before MMA. The sport has existed for a long time and has just changed a bit. This is a chance for a fresh start and to really push things forward.”
Getting that “right blend” steered our conversation towards his time in WCL and how WCL was a great idea, but still had perhaps a bit too confusing of a rule set and that the presentation was left lacking in the face of modern sports like MMA. “I think that’s really where Bellator Kickboxing can shine. We can be different and help to push the sport forward, but it doesn’t have to be too different. I’m looking forward to making the sport more popular and to what I’m gonna do in Bellator Kickboxing with Spike TV. The first card has a little bit of everything, different styles and flavors, it brings it all together.”
Look for Raymond Daniels strive for his “Knockout Heard Throughout the Universe” on April 16th in Torino, Italy at Bellator Kickboxing: Torino, airing April 22nd at 11pm Eastern on Spike TV.