For the first time in a long time, things don't sound totally hopeless for Paul Daley.
In a break from his previous declarations that Daley would “never fight in the UFC again” for sucker-punching Josh Koscheck after the bell at UFC 113, Dana White on Saturday night hinted that the British welterweight might one day win his way back into the fight company’s good graces.
"We'll see what happens with [Strikeforce] first ...," the UFC president said at the UFC 138 postfight media conference in Daley’s hometown of Birmingham, England. “The guy's got to win some fights. Any guy who loses in the UFC or other promotions, you lose, and you go get some wins somewhere else and come back."
White may not exactly sound ready to welcome Daley back with open arms just yet, but -- to paraphrase a line from “Dumb and Dumber” -- at least now he’s saying there’s still a chance. For Daley, that’s what passes for progress these days.
If Daley’s prospects now depend more on his win-loss record than his character issues, that’s good news for him. Still, even as White softens his hard-line stance, it feels fair to wonder if Daley could even compete in a UFC 170-pound division that seems to get more competitive each day.
Since his dishonorable discharge from the Octagon last year, Daley has gone 6-2 with wins over some decent mid-level talent. He’s just 1-2 in Strikeforce, however, and his losses there to Nick Diaz and Tyron Woodley still feel like the best indicators of how he matches up against top-flight opposition. He’s also failed to make weight three times, which never looks good when you’re trying to rebuild your professional reputation.
Daley was 2-1 in the UFC during 2009-10, but the welterweight class has gone through a considerable overhaul during the past several months. The arrival of Diaz and Jake Shields from Strikeforce, the rise of a new contenders like Carlos Condit and Jake Ellenberger and the proliferation of wrestle-first standouts like Rick Story, Charlie Brenneman and Johny Hendricks, all make it questionable that Daley could once again be player in the division.
Even if Daley were one day invited back to into the Octagon, his stay there would no doubt be a steady diet of high level grapplers and -- as Koscheck and Woodley both pointed out -- those are his least favorite kind of opponent.
Clearly, any potential future in the UFC is better than none. Yet, as big a trick as it would be for Daley to fight his way back there, the bigger one might be proving he has what it takes to stick around long-term.