At GLORY 23 Las Vegas there is a tall task laid out for Raymond Daniels, one that many fans and insiders have proclaimed to be impossible: defeat Nieky Holzken and take the GLORY Welterweight Championship home with him. Back at GLORY 19 during a contender’s tournament the two men met for the first time in a fight that Holzken largely dominated with his smart cutting off of the ring and use of his experienced hands to keep Daniels from getting comfortable and doing what he does best, which is kicking from a distance. Since then the champion Joseph Valtellini was forced to vacate the championship due to complications from a concussion and GLORY has placed Holzken against Daniels in a rematch, the winner taking home the title.
Many see it as a foregone conclusion for Holzken. To them he’ll clearly be walking away with the championship, but there is just one thing that they are forgetting in this equation: Raymond Daniels. Daniels is known throughout martial arts circles as one of the best competitive martial artists of all time. That isn’t an exaggeration, if you look through the worlds of sport martial arts you won’t find anyone quite like Daniels. His record is immaculate, his accolades could fill a warehouse, yet he still looks for further challenges and his ultimate challenge is in the GLORY ring right now, his ultimate challenge is taking on Nieky Holzken.
Their first fight was a tough loss for Daniels, but he reflects on the fight as a positive learning experience for him. “It was a learning experience for sure,” he explained. “I get to watch that fight and see what I need to do to fix the holes in my game and to make myself a better fighter. That’s how you improve as a fighter and a person, by learning from your mistakes.”
When analyzing Daniels as a fighter and his game, it’s difficult not to see where his weaknesses lie. His background in Karate meant less of a focus on using his hands, but since turning professional in kickboxing there has been a marked improvement. “There’s always a learning curve, there’s always something that you can do better. I’ll never be perfect, even if I strive for perfection. You can see the maturity of myself as a fighter, you can see the evolution of my style over my last few fights. It’s a great feeling, I’m just so much more comfortable, so much more calm and collected in that ring now. I used to be really excited, hopping around a lot and trying to get things over quickly. Now I’m able to get my energy out in spurts.”
Daniels is a living legend in the world of sport karate, so the question has to be raised why he would even make such a transition to professional kickboxing. “I’ve been very fortunate in my sport. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve met great people but I’ve accomplished everything that I possibly could a few times over. The next realm with a similar system is kickboxing and GLORY is that vehicle that gets me out there, just like the World Combat League did before. Now GLORY is the biggest league on the planet, so they give me the opportunity to use my skillset. Everyone looks at my sport and says ‘oh it’s pitter patter, it’s Karate Kid, it’s Best of the Best’ or something. This gives me a chance to go out there and show that just because my sport is about control and technique, that I’m able to translate that technique into kickboxing and add speed and power to it. That’s what I love about this, I get to test my skills against guys with different skill sets and style and show them what my sport is capable of doing.”
The World Combat League, organized by Chuck Norris, was dismissed at the time for it’s relatively strange rules and team format, but it’s undeniable that they produced a ton of talent. WCL’s roster included not only Daniels but Uriah Hall, Jarrell Miller, Pat Barry, Anthony Njokuani, Lyman Good, Carlos Brooks, Rick Cheek, Felice Herrig and more.
“What was great was that my sport was dismissed in combat sports, written off as impractical or too old fashioned, but then you look at the WCL and some of the fighters that came from there,” Daniels said. “But you got to see the athletes from the WCL start to blossom afterwards.”
This quickly brought us to the topic of being dismissed and how Daniels has been dismissed by kickboxing fans and pundits almost across the board. “You know, I find it kind of comical in a way. I look at it like; the people that don’t understand a burning desire couldn’t understand what it is, what I want and how I feel. Just because you fail or you fall short on something that you want to accomplish doesn’t necessarily mean that your life is defined by those moments. I lost a fight, but that doesn’t define me. I see people who have that outlook as very close-minded individuals. Everybody has a setback in life. If this wasn’t challenging to me, why would I do it? If I wasn’t fighting world class athletes like Nieky why would I be doing this?
“This gives me an opportunity to grow,” he continued. “Not just as a fight, but as a person. It allows me to step outside of my comfort zone. It allows me to strive to be better, to learn more about myself. I see people who will dismiss a fighter as people that would probably give up as soon as they have a setback in life as opposed to finding a way to make it work, finding a way through and to persevere. I have a fire underneath me and am more motivated than ever. I have an opportunity to go out there and fight someone who has beaten me before, there aren’t a lot of people that can say that they’ve beaten me before in my career. With that being said, people that are overlooking me, I have that knock-it-out-of-the-park ability with every move that I throw. So I always find it funny. Don’t get me wrong, Nieky himself is a great fighter, but he’s a flawed fighter. He’s lost before and he has holes in his game -- just like I do -- that I can exploit. Nobody's perfect. I’m looking forward to going in there and being able to silence people. If you don’t believe, just watch. I want to show people what it is to have faith in myself, in my skillset and to prove these people wrong.”
There is another side to GLORY’s push of Raymond Daniels, though, one that is hard to explain. Daniels possesses a magnetism that many fighters don’t. His ability to do things in the ring that no one thought was practical and not only land, but score crazy knockouts with has earned him a reputation among fans as a can’t miss fighter. I got to see this first hand live at GLORY 16 where fighters like Rico Verhoeven, Errol Zimmerman, Andy Souwer and Ben Edwards were walking around throughout the night and went relatively undisturbed, but Daniels was a different story. He was being stopped for selfies, autographs and high fives throughout the night. He’s fought on some of the most-viewed GLORY cards of all-time on Spike TV and has been one of their featured attractions.
“That’s my whole goal at the end of the day, outside of fighting, I want to give fans something to talk about. I want to be able to give back to them,” he explained. “I want them to look at something that I did and say ‘my god, I saw that in a movie last week and he did it,’ you know what I mean? I also want the die hard fans to say ‘that stuff doesn’t work in a fight, Nieky has this Dutch style that’s gonna light him up’ and say, okay, come watch. As long as people want to come to watch, that’s cool. At the end of the day I don’t believe my own hype. You know, that’s not who I am. I have a Martial Arts school and I don’t even advertise what I do. Most of my students don’t even know that I’m going to fight for the world title right now.
“Some of my students will see some of my fights later,” he jokes, “and they’ll be like ‘oh my gosh that’s my sensei in there? He’s not like that when he’s in the karate school.’ It’s a different persona, you know, like wrestling. Wrestling isn’t real, but how many people follow that, watch it -- I mean people have tattoos of it. People watch it because they put on a show. What I’m doing is real, but it’s still entertainment. If I go out there and I can knock a guy out with a kick that you’d only see in the movies, how much entertainment value does that bring? That’s how I look at my fighting.”
Daniels brings all of this and more to the table, also bringing with him one of the gaping holes in the combat sports world of late by the way of traditional martial arts. Martial Arts are indeed about self-defense and technique, but are centered around improving the self and becoming a better person. “I feel that is missing from sports right now. The focus isn’t on that, the focus is on who is the best, who is the flashiest and who is making the most money. It’s absolutely missing from combat sports right now and I’m just glad that I can help bring some of those values with me into the ring.”
It is a monumental task for Raymond Daniels at GLORY 23 against Nieky Holzken, but Daniels seems ready for whatever might come his way. Tune in this Friday at 11pm Eastern time on Spike TV to witness Raymond Daniels vs. Nieky Holzken vying for the GLORY Welterweight Championship and see for yourself who comes out victorious.