Raymond Daniels -- GLORY's high-flying and highlight-reel inducing welterweight -- had no answer for Nieky Holzken during their first encounter in the tournament final at GLORY 19. His offensive was nullified by the Dutch veteran, who knocked him down four times to earn a technical knockout victory and a crack at "Bazooka" Joe Valtellini.
But in unfortunate circumstances, Valtellini vacated the title due to complications stemming from post-concussion syndrome. Now just six months after GLORY 19, Daniels (27-2) gets a rematch against Holzken (86-11) and a shot at the welterweight title.
"I'm excited," Daniels told MMAmania.com. "It's been a while since I've been like really, really, excited for a fight. I feel better than I ever have before. Conditioning is great. My camp has been great. I feel stronger than I ever have before, so, just waiting for the time and the moment."
Coming in completely fresh against Holzken, is something Daniels is looking forward to, especially after having to face "The Natural" in the GLORY 19 tournament final having already fought that evening. "Real Deal" thinks the rematch is "going to be a completely different fight" from the first and he explained why.
"Fighting the style I fight is such a high octane and high output," he said. "When I came in to fight Nieky in the second fight... I'm not used to fighting in a tournament format. Nieky has a lot more experience in tournaments and things of that nature. So, he is used to knowing how much energy he needs to exert in his first fight as opposed to his next fight. For me, I fought Jonatan Oliveira, who for one is a really tough guy. Two, I felt in control that whole fight, but I was doing things that were unnecessary.
"I was doing things that were entertaining to the crowd and keeping the fans standing up and cheering. So, I felt like I was wasting a lot of energy in that fight. When I went into the fight with Nieky, I wasn't prepared like I was in the one before. Rehydrating myself, replacing my electrolytes so I feel fresh and rejuvenated. I laid down in the back and rested until the next fight. I came out and felt really lethargic going into that fight. I didn't have my legs under me.
"I'm taking nothing away from Nieky. He was the better fighter that night. He won that night. I have nothing to say about that. But, I think it is going to be a completely different fight, him having to fight me at 100 percent. And even when my energy level goes down to that 75, 60 percent, he gets to absorb all of that energy of that 40 percent, that 25 percent that I put out. He gets to absorb my output. It's going to be a different type of fight. I'm really looking forward to seeing him come out at full strength and me coming out at full strength and showing the clash of our styles because it's a clash of two completely different styles of fighting."
Daniels, 35, has watched the first fight against Holzken several times now in preparation for the title fight at GLORY 23. The Taekwondo black belt is used to fighting outside of a ring, and feeds off being in open space, but at GLORY 19, he was getting caught in the corners and put on the defensive throughout the contest. He thinks he made things a lot easier for Holzken as a result of that, and has worked on eliminating that aspect this time around.
"You don't know what you don't know," said Daniels, who spent some time training with UFC middleweight Uriah Hall during this fight camp. "He did a blueprint of what you are supposed to do against me. He did a great job and I don't take anything from him, but he allowed me to do that. He wouldn't pressure me to that corner, I would actually back up into that corner and allow him to come and get me in the corner. I didn't realize that. That's something I've been working on. Not putting myself in situations where I get hit... Those are the times where I take the most damage is when I do that to myself. I would take back myself into a corner and I would take damage. Each time I got knocked down. Each time I took damage is when I put myself in a bad situation."
"Real Deal" has also spent a lot of time preparing for the pressure that Holzken will undoubtedly put on him on Friday night.
"My boxing coach Ramon Espada has worked with me a lot for that," said Daniels, who also trains under Tyler Wombles from Classic Fight Team. "That way I have that opportunity to feel that pressure and to make sure I'm creating the openings that I need, and I have the proper answers for the type of shots that are coming at me."
And you best believe he's spotted some openings on Holzken and has been digging in his bag of tricks to pull off some of gravity-defying maneuvers that GLORY fans and Spike TV viewers have come to love.
"Nieky is a great fighter and I take nothing from him, but no one is perfect," Daniels said. "I consider every fighter like swiss cheese. There is always a hole somewhere, you just have to find it. So, my entire camp is exclusive to train for him, which is totally different than having to fighting in a tournament aspect. I have observed those holes, watched those fights, seen my openings where those holes are and where I can capitalize. Where I feel like he is making mistakes and where I can capitalize. He capitalized on all the mistakes that I made during the last fight. Now it's time to show everybody what it is that I learned from that particular fight and how I've grown from it."
In the few fights he has now had in GLORY, Daniels has become a fan favorite. Ever since his two-touch spinning-back kick knockout over Francois Ambang at GLORY 16 in May of 2014, kickboxing fans have been salivating to see him perform.
"It makes me feel great to be honest," said Daniels. "Anything you work hard at for a lot of years in your life, and people show appreciation for your craft and something you have worked really hard at and dedicated your life to mastering, it is one of the greatest feelings and greatest compliments that someone can give you."
Daniels is well aware that he has some detractors too, but he welcomes them to tune in to Spike TV or buy a ticket and watch him fight, just as much as his supporters.
"Some people like my style; Some people don't like my style," he said. "I get praise and I also get a lot of criticism, but I enjoy what I do. I enjoy giving the fans something that they want to see. I enjoy giving the fans that don't like my style something to see, so if they want to see me get beat, come watch. If you want to see me do something crazy and really spectacular again, come watch. It's a great feeling and I am very fortunate and blessed to have the ability and skill set that I do have and I look forward to putting it on display bigger than ever come August 7th."
The Long Beach, California-based fighter has family out in Vegas who will be attending GLORY 23, and that has him even more motivated for the rematch with Holzken. Daniels said his older brother called him up as soon as he saw the GLORY 23 billboard -- where he usually sees Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather -- to tell him how excited he is to see his little brother compete in the fight capital of the world. "That right there, my big brother calling me and saying that was a great feeling."
"I'm going to fight in front of a lot of my family and a lot of my fans," he continued. "My motivation is not only to fight Nieky for redemption or however you want to look at it -- vindication -- or whatever words you want to use. To have the opportunity to fight for the GLORY welterweight title and fight in front of my family and to come back from a defeat, there's nothing like it."