Ayo Daly on ‘fighting for his life’ in pro debut against Stebuliauskas


One of Ireland’s most promising amateurs, Team Ryano’s Ayo Daly, will make his pro debut on March 14 in the Lithuania’s Vilnius Siemens Arena at King of Kings World Grand Prix, where he will face dangerous Lithuania striker Matas Stebuliauskas.

Daly, who clocked up an unbeaten record of 8-0-1 in his amateur career, explained how he felt the time was right to take on pro status after a move to train under Andy Ryan exposed a lot of weaknesses in his game that he has since strengthened during his time at the Finglas gym.

“I think it’s at the perfect time,” claimed the welterweight. “Even before I joined Team Ryano I thought I was ready to take the step up, but as soon as I started to train with them guys it became clear that I wasn’t ready.

“There were just so many things that I wasn’t doing. I was always very confident with my BJJ, I was very confident off my back and I thought I’d always be able to get the fight back standing. Then I went up to Ryano and I was like ‘holy shit’.

“It took me a while to get to get back on my feet with the training initially, but then the improvements that I saw when I had my first fight since moving there against Kiefer (Crosbie) were huge.

“Even with my performance last weekend. It was quite tight in the first round, but then I came out and blitzed the guy in the second.”

One of amateur MMA’s functions is for fighters to try out different aspects of their games in an effort to feel out what will work for them if they eventually go pro.

Based on that, you would imagine that a fighter’s approach to competition would change considerably when taking the step up to the pro ranks. For Daly however, the Ryano man insisted that he has always had the same approach and he can’t see it changing ahead of his big milestone on Saturday night.

“Personally, I don’t think there’s a massive difference between pro and amateur. When I was training in Lucan and I wasn’t working I was training three times a day.

“Now at Ryano I have a full time job on top of my training. Every morning I got running, I cycle 15 kilometers to and from work, and I go to Ryano in the evenings to get more work done. I’m doing other stuff too, whether it’s sprints or yoga with my sister, so I believe I’m doing exactly what I need to do.

“I’m at a fantastic gym. I mean, if it wasn’t working guys like Neil (Seery) and Redser (Paul Redmond) wouldn’t be where they are today. There are other guys too like Konrad (Iwanowski), Myles Price is making a comeback and we have John Redmond too. If the formula wasn’t working, I would be worried.

“I just feel like I’m getting the right type of training and I believe that performances have proven that I’ve been getting the right training. I’m going to continue to improve, every fight I go into now I have that invincible feeling about me. I think that’s the big difference between good amateurs and great amateurs.

“Some guys might train three times a week and they think that’s great. I’ve heard of this a lot, guys doing a few days training a week and then taking a few weeks off and then they’re taking fights. They go in and they lose in the first round and they’re wondering what happened.

“This is serious business, I can’t stress that enough. People always say to me that they want to start a bit of training, that’s all well and good, but if you want to fight you have to take this more seriously than anything else in your life.

“(Ronda) Rousey said it before, ‘I’m willing to die in there’, and I feel the exact same way. When I go in to fight I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen. My missus is usually at my fights and she’s stressed out, she’s screaming and she’s worried – and she should be at times.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in there. I could get knocked out, I could get submitted so I go in there like I’m fighting for my life. If you don’t go in with that mentality – that’s where some guys are going wrong,” said Daly.

As for his opponent, Stebuliauskas, Daly believes he has isolated some weaknesses in his counterpart that he will look to exploit when they face off in Lithuania.

“I only got his name off Andy yesterday, I’m not even going to try and pronounce it!” he laughed. “He asked me if I wanted the fight 10 days ago and I accepted it 10 days ago. I did some homework on the guy last night, I watched a few of his fights.

“Obviously he’s got some great Thai boxing skills, he’s got very good stand up but that’s what Andy had told me before I accepted the fight. I watched some of his MMA fights though, and he wasn’t throwing anywhere near as many kicks because he’s obviously worried about the takedowns.

“I saw some of his fights from 2012 and he was getting punched around in some of them. Guys were just a little bit bigger than him and he was getting outmuscled and he was getting rocked.

“Everyone that I’ve fought have been big enough welterweights and I’ve been able to take everyone of them down, I’ve been able to control every one of them when I get top position. I think if it goes to the ground I’ll have no problems whatsoever.

“In the standup I’m no pushover either. I’m not just going to stand there and let this guy tee off on me and let him throw his fancy fuckin’ kicks and brutalize my legs. I’m going to go in there and put pressure on him.

“In every one of my fights I feel I’ve put a pressure on the guys that they just can’t handle. No disrespect to Glenn (Irvine) at the weekend, but he was gassing after the first round. I don’t know whether that’s something with his training or if he hasn’t been put in that position before, but once the second round started I kind of steamrolled him.”

Although Daly originally felt pessimistic about his career in 2015, given his professional bow and the amount of quality amateurs taking the step up this year, he is excited to be part of the next generation of Irish pros who could help to bolster the Irish MMA scene.

“I was pretty pissed off about two weeks ago. I wasn’t happy in my work and there was no sign of any fights and I wasn’t majorly excited about another amateur fight up north.

“The way I saw it I was a year behind schedule. I wanted to go pro in 2014, that was the plan. Then Cage Warriors fell through and I really got worried. I wasn’t sure what Andy was doing with BattleZone at this stage either but as soon as he put out a tweet looking for pro fighters, I knew I’d take the step up.

“I knew he would put on a big show with Cage Warriors out of the way. It looks like UFC won’t be back in Ireland this year either, so this is a real chance for guys like me and Tommy Hogan who are going pro, and other guys at our weight like Paul Lawrence and Keith McCabe who will probably go pro soon as well.

“Now my management team is looking for fights everywhere. Celtic Fighter Management, the company who looks after me, have Chris Del over in the States so he’s looking into fights for me and we’re also looking into the possibility of fighting in Africa.

“I don’t even care about money at this stage, I’ve got a decent job at the moment that pays for my training, I just want to fight as much as I can. So I’ve got this fight in Lithuania and then I’ve got another tough fight on June 6 against James Brennan.

“There are plenty of shows in Ireland too like Clan Wars and Underdog Promotions. There’s a generation of guys like McGregor, Seery, Pendred, Redmond, Holohan and loads more and now that they’ve made it to the big shows it was worrying for the national scene.

“Now there are so many new fighters joining the pro ranks that I think it can be every bit as exciting as it was back when they were on the national circuit. I want to get four or five fights in at pro this year. If I’m 5-0 by 2016 and UFC or Bellator come over here I’ll be throwing my name in the hat.

“If I had the same record at pro as I did as an amateur, I’d be laughing. If that happened and people were questioning who deserves a shot in Ireland, I think I’d be the man for the job.”


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