Italy is a country that has given birth to some of the greatest artistic creations the world has ever known. And when Raymond Daniels (27-3) heads there for Bellator Kickboxing, he will look to paint another gravity-defying masterpiece for which he has long been known. But, unlike Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci who used a paint brush, "Real Deal" paints with his limbs from a palette of spinning and jumping colors that reveal movements a gamer would get from button mashing during "Tekken" or "Street Fighter."
While fighting for GLORY kickboxing the last few years, Daniels, 35, gave fans the kind of thrilling and high-flying violence they never witnessed before each and every time he stepped in the ring. Now, he will do the same for Bellator Kickboxing when he heads to Turin, Italy, for the new promotion's first fight card to take on Francesco Moricca (15-2-1). The card will air via tape delay on Fri., April 22, 2016, at 11 p.m. ET immediately after Bellator 153.
"Real Deal" is happy to still be a part of the Viacom and Spike TV family and is excited to be a part of history and compete on the promotion's inaugural card.
"It's awesome to have the opportunity to continue that relationship with them," Daniels told MMAmania.com. "I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to go out for this first Bellator Kickboxing event. This is a very historic event, so to speak, and to have the opportunity to have a huge part and play a role in it is an honor in itself."
Back in February when the new promotion was launched, Daniels told MMAmania.com in Houston, Texas, that staying with Spike was a "determining factor" in why he didn't re-sign with GLORY. "With Bellator Kickboxing being on Spike I will be able to continue to build that brand and build that legacy and to continue to motivate and inspire other martial artists around the world. That is what my goal is."
Another key component was Scott Coker, whom Daniels had worked with years prior with one of his first fights in K-1. "He kind of has that Midas touch," he said at the time. "Everything he touches he turns to gold. I"m looking forward to being involved with Bellator as it turns to gold on Spike TV."
Daniels is a martial arts instructor when he's not competing and he travels the world to host seminars and teach. He's never been to Italy for a fight, but raved about the country saying it has "great food, great wine and great culture." He likes the idea of going into hostile environment to Morica, who is a native Italian.
"I'm going into foreign territory and fighting somewhere on their home turf, but at the same time I do have a huge following in Italy," Daniels explained. "Last year I did a tour and I had thousands of people at my seminars. I'm really excited to see when I come out am I going to have some support? Will I have bigger support than somebody from the actual country themselves? It will be a great opportunity and people that aren't fans of mine... I look forward to converting them."
As for his opponent, "Real Deal" offered some analysis, "He is well versed in his boxing and kickboxing. He's had some MMA stuff as well. I've gotten a chance to see he is really strong and aggressive. He's got some good powerful hands. Got some good Dutch-style leg kicks. He's not any type of style of fighter that I haven't seen before or anything like that. He's got a similar style, similar base to the fighters I'm used to. I'm definitely well versed in it. I think it will be a great fight and I'll be able to go out there and give the fans definitely something they've never seen before. I'll go out there and do what I do best, put on a show."
Putting on an aerial circus of maneuvers and eye-popping techniques has never been the issue for the Californian Taekwondo, American Kenpo and Shotokan black belt. Those moves come with relative ease in the ring because he's done them his whole life in karate competition. The true challenge for Daniels in his career was realizing he needed to make serious adjustments to his game in order to take on elite-level kickboxers.
Daniels first tasted defeat in the semifinals of the GLORY 13 tournament against Valtellini ... and it left a bitter taste. "Bazooka Joe" didn't fall prey to all of his strengths and forced him into fighting his style, cutting off the ring, keeping the pressure on and riddling him with low kicks, which eventually knocked him out in the third round. He suffered a similar fate when he faced current GLORY Welterweight champion, Nieky Holzken.
Daniels was determined to improve and reinvented his game and began to work with Tyler Wombles, a protege of Rafael Cordeiro who now owns and operates Classic Fight Team in Costa Mesa, California. Since then, he's shown great improvements in his overall game and although he lost to Holzken in their rematch last August, Daniels won the first round of the fight on the scorecards and proved he belonged in the ring before succumbing because of a nasty cut over his eye.
"As a martial artists it's about constant and never-ending improvement," Daniels said. "Can you become than who you were yesterday? That's always my goal. My skill set before I lost to Valltelini and to Holzken, no one had ever been able to make me show or make me have to improve in a way where I had to rework my basics because no one ever was able to counter that style of fighting. Because it was so flash and so high-energy and high-octane that a lot of times they weren't able to or they weren't strong enough. Anytime you lose it's a humbling experience, but at the same time you are a competitor and an athlete you know that it really lights a fire underneath you. I love winning. I absolutely enjoy it, but I dislike losing so much that the universe isn't a big enough place to show how much I dislike the losing aspect of it. That's because I'm a competitor."
"Raymond has always been a top-level fighter, but he has improved leaps and bounds in his kickboxing skill, especially with his defense," said Wombles. "When he is able to defend traditional kickboxers successfully, that is when he is able to impose his will on them. I've always said it's almost impossible to figure Raymond out in three rounds and the reason for that is--just like he did with karate--he has dedicated himself to honing these new skills and spends hours drilling on the things we feel were needed to keep his progression going. He's a true martial artist in every way and his discipline, focus and self confidence are second to none."
Daniels says Wombles and his boxing coach Ramon Espada are "great coaches" who continue to stress the basics and keep him well prepared, but what he loves the most is that they put no restrictions on what he is capable of and does remarkably well, so he can still be his high-flying self when he wants to be. Ultimate that is what makes him so much different than other kickboxers, he says.
Bellator Kickboxing seems tailor made for fighters from Bellator MMA to cross over and vice-versa. Daniels wouldn't completely rule it out, but it's more than likely he wont wander into the cage any time soon. He's more than content on doing what he does best.
"I have to say if I was a painter and you told me to paint a masterpiece It would be with a paint brush and kickboxing is where I can paint that masterpiece," he said, being honest on where his strengths lie. "It's not that MMA is off the map or anything, but I'd have to talk to my camp and talk to the people that are in my corner and see if that is an avenue we want to go down and venture."
For now, Daniels has set his sights set on wowing the Italian crowd inside Pala Apitour on Saturday by painting another masterpiece and dismantling Moricca by a method that has yet to be seen inside a kickboxing ring. Indeed, just a regular win won't do. It has to be a jaw-dropping finish like his win over Francois Ambang where he hit a two-touch spinning-back kick, which went viral within minutes and he affectionately dubbed, "Real Deal."
"I already expect to win my fight, but I want to win it in a fashion that is exciting to the people and the crowd and give the world something they haven't seen a real athlete in a combat sport actually do. For me, I make sure I got out and condition myself so I'm mentally and physically strong enough to be able to go out and showcase my athleticism. I still got a few tricks up my sleeve that everybody hasn't seen before. I'm looking forward to having that opportunity to go out here in Bellator's premiere kickboxing event and go out and show everybody some new stuff and something that will keep them coming back for many years to come."