HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- There's a time-honored tradition in combat sports which puts the world title bout on any fight card in the main-event position. If there's more than one title fight, the heaviest weight goes on last.
Thursday night, though, Bellator will break with tradition. Featherweight champion Pat Curran's title defense with Patricio "Pitbull" Freire will open the three-fight main card on the company's Spike TV debut event at the Bren Center at the University of California-Irvine.
Far from taking it as a championship snub, though, Curran is embracing the opportunity. As he sees it, it's his chance to show the new audience on Spike what he's all about.
"It's awesome," Curran (17-4) said at Tuesday's open workouts. "I'll be the first fight on the main card, the first televised fight. I want to go out and put on a good fight. Bjorn [Rebney] and Bellator made the right decision making this the first fight, they know it's going to be exciting. All we have to do is go out there 100 percent and see where it goes from there."
It's clear Bellator expects fireworks in the televised opener.
"If all the guys at 145 pounds in the world starting throwing punches," said Rebney, "Jose Aldo and Pat Curran would be the last ones standing and all the other ‘45ers would be scattered on the mat on the ground."
That might be a bit much, but Rebney has a point about Curran's power. Curran has found his home by dropping to 145 pounds. He knocked out Marlon Sandro to win the Bellator 2011 summer series tournament, then dropped Joe Warren to take the Bellator championship last March. Freire (17-1) meanwhile, has won three straight and has 13 finishes in his 17 victories.
"He's a tough opponent," said Curran. "I'm very excited for the first show on Spike to be against ‘Pitbull.' He's a durable fighter, he's never been knocked out, he's lost once, he's very explosive, he's very well-rounded, he goes to the ground, he has knockout power, great striking. It's going to make for a good match."
"You've got two very high-level fighters going at it," Curran said. "Either one's going to step aside and take off and outclass the other fighter, or you're just going to get two guys who are equally matched and go all five rounds. But that's not my plan, I don't want it to go to the judges. Let's just put on a good exciting fight and make it known that what's going on in Bellator."
Curran hasn't fought since winning the title in March for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a broken orbital bone suffered in training, which caused him to sit out for two months. Curran says he's fully healed and ready to go.
"I took about eight weeks off and then eased back into it," Curran said. "I probably want to say [I was out] two months, 2 1/2 months and then I was ready to go. I was taking punches, I had bigger headgear so I wouldn't take the full damage of being punched, My training camp's been nothing but great, no injuries, 100 percent ... I was right back into it. That much time off from the gym, I miss it, it's my life, I love training hard and getting in those hard sparring sessions. That's what I did, I just ran back into it."
Despite all the new level of hype, Curran is doing his best to treat Thursday night as simply just another fight.
"Bellator being on Spike isn't getting to me. If anything it's motivating, it's encouraging me to be a better fighter and put on a better performance. But when it comes down to it, I'm just there to put on a great show, a great fight for everybody, and keep the ball rolling in my career. I'm more driven than ever. Moving over to Spike's given me more motivation to keep winning, keep winning in amazing fashion and just put on great performances for everybody. "