Bellator's featherweight champion Pat Curran defends his title against Daniel Straus at Bellator 106 on Saturday. Many improperly assume this is the first meeting between the two, but they actually first fought in April of 2009. Curran, 5-1 at the time, faced off against a 4-2 Straus. Curran would go on to stop Straus in the second round via TKO and as Curran told MMA Fighting, the two "went [their] separate ways."
That's not just technically accurate, but more largely true in terms talent development. As Curran would go onto explain, he fell in love with boxing and developed his larger skill set. Straus, too, has evolved, but one where his abilities as a fighter are almost evenly distributed across the gamut of fighting disciplines.
As far as Curran is concerned, that means whatever happened previously in 2009 isn't particularly helpful as an indicator of what will happen on November 2nd. If anything, Straus has even more motivation to not merely capture the title, but undo a blemish on his record.
In this interview with MMA Fighting, Curran discusses his first meeting with Straus, fighting Eddie Alvarez at lightweight, his personal skill development, being more of a fixture for Bellator and much more.
You previously fought Straus. For folks who never saw that first fight, what would you say happened? Describe it.
We were both very new early in our pro careers and it was at a local show around the Chicago area.
The first round kind of went more so just a clinch fight where we were in the over/under position against the cage and throwing a lot of knees and short shots, but mainly just tied up the whole time.
The second round was a little bit different. We kind of kept our distance and space and were still feeling each other out a little bit. I just timed a right hook that pretty much knocked him out unconscious right away.
Like I said, though, it was still early in our careers. We both grew as fighters. I know Straus is completely different guy now. He still has that loss in the back of his head. He really wants to redeem himself, which is making him really hungry and I know he's going to be training even harder in this training camp just to get that loss off of his record and take what I already have. It's going to be a very tough fight.
What did you know about him before that fight?
Honestly, I'd never heard of him, never really gotten to know each other. Like I said, we were both pretty new in the sport. I wasn't really following the local talent. We were just matched up together. And it was at lightweight, too, 155 pounds.
What were your impressions of his ability after that very first round?
I remember trying to take him down or going after his legs. He was very strong in the clinch. I could tell he had very good hips, very good balance. I didn't want to waste too much energy trying to take him down. He was very, very strong and like I said, had really good balance.
He's clearly a different fighter now. I can't even judge that first fight and have it in my mind going into this fight.
From the guy in Straus you fought then to the guy you are going to fight Saturday, how is he different?
He's evolved. He's definitely gotten a lot better: striking, grappling, his wrestling, just overall as an MMA fighter. Since that he's had an 11- or 12-fight win streak and been on a tear ever since. Definitely I know he grew as a fighter after that loss and started taking MMA very seriously. We both kind of went our separate ways and now we both made it back into Bellator in the same week, same division and we meet again on Nov. 2nd.
If you could say one or two things most different about you now relative to who you were in the first fight, what would you say?
Earlier in my career, I was definitely more gun shy. I was afraid to throw my hands. I wasn't comfortable striking and just as an MMA fighter in general, I was still growing as a fighter and still had a lot to learn. More so, I wasn't comfortable throwing punches. Now I've worked a lot of my striking, a lot of boxing, a lot of kickboxing. We've seen it in my previous fights in Bellator where I'm throwing my hands a lot more and I'm prepared than when I first started.
You can train with a group of talented guys, but it's also a small group. You're not at a major camp with dozens of top professionals. Why do you believe that model is it a better fit for you?
Everyone is different, but this was my first gym that I got involved with. It's my cousin's gym and he's the whole reason I got into this sport, so I'm very loyal to him, very loyal to the school, very loyal to my coaches. They've been there with me since the beginning. I want them there every step of the way.
I do better with more one-on-one attention and compared to being a group of 15 or 20 guys, I get that one-on-one attention with my coach, I do a lot, lot better. I'm able to understand much better and pick it up a lot easier.
I wouldn't say we have a small school, but we have a very talented group of fighters. I'm not even saying pro fighters. Even our amateurs fighters coming up are extremely talented. I'm always going to the gym and getting great work in with our guys even if they're not fighters. Just doing jiu-jitsu or grappling. We have a solid grappling team as well.
By the way, whatever happened to your plans to compete in boxing? My understanding is you were injured. Are those plans still in the back of your mind for later on or have you moved on completely?
They're definitely in the back of my mind. I definitely fell in love with boxing and it's a big part of my training camp. I'm really close with my boxing coach. He'd definitely like to see make my debut one day, but as of right now, I have a few fights lined up in Bellator. My career is really going as an MMA fighter.
At that time, I didn't feel like it was a risk I wanted to take, especially with an injury. I thought it was the best decision to pull out of the fight, rest my injury, take care of it and prepare for my fight with Straus.
As one of Bellator's larger stars, do you feel an obligation to bring in fans to make Bellator's efforts successful?
Absolutely, as a fighter, you definitely want a following. You want to put on a great show, great performance for the fans. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I don't want to think too much about it. I like thinking about my training, my fight ahead with Straus and I know every time I step in the cage I'm ready to go to war. I'm going to fight my heart out and put on the best show I can for everybody.
You must wonder time to time 'Where am I in the division?' Top five? Top 10?' Ballpark, where do you think you are?
Of course as any champion or any fighter, you want to believe you're the best. The only way to really find that out is to fight against the best or beat the best. It's really hard to say. That's a tough question to ask. I really can't answer that.
Is there someone ranked you know you're better than? Is there a position you know you're not less than?
I absolutely believe I belong in the top ten and belong with the best fighters. My mentality is to keep growing as a fighter. I know I'm only going to keep getting better. It's hard to say where I put myself in rankings because you have to beat the best to be the best. I can't throw a number out there. I don't know.
I want to ask you about another fight on the card: Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez. First of all, who do you favor to win there?
Oh man, that's a tough one. I know both of these guys. Alvarez is a very intelligent, very smart player. Very motivated right now. Chandler as well. He's still young and still developing. He's looking better and better every fight. It's going to be a very interesting match-up, their second time around. It's really hard to say. I like both guys and both of them have very exciting styles. It's a toss in the air. It's hard to take one fighter.
Your last lightweight fight was against Alvarez. With all the stuff that's happened to him, the back and forth with Bellator and UFC plus the time off, do you believe that is a distraction or fuel for competitive fire?
It's definitely fuel. He's taking that and he is fueling the fire and more motivated than ever to get his belt back and to win. I know that for a fact.
Why do you know that for a fact?
I spoke to him a little bit. Like I said, he has that mentality of being very motivated and no distractions. He just wants to get through a good training camp and get his title back.
When you fought Eddie Alvarez, what did you discover that made you decide you needed to go back down to featherweight?
Before we even got into the tournament, I was fighting at featherweight. I was a replacement for somebody that got injured and we decided 'Hey, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.' I have no problems going back up a weight class and competing in a tournament. If I lose, I lose, it's no big deal. We go right back down to featherweight. It happened that I won the tournament and was able to fight Eddie Alvarez.
The original plan was to always go back down to featherweight and compete at that weight. We just wanted to see how far we could go at lightweight.
I made it to the finals, was able to compete against Eddie Alvarez and lost a decision. It felt like the right time to go back down to featherweight.
What about Ben Askren? If you were Ben Askren, what would you do?
It's tough because everyone's different. He's kind of in limbo right now. I don't know his position, really. He's kind of just waiting on an offer for the UFC or negotiating with Bellator. I'm not really following it. I can't give you too much information about it, but me as a fighter, my biggest thing is just staying active. I don't want to have too much down time. To grow as a fighter, you have to just keep competing and have that competitiveness in you to stay active.
I definitely wouldn't want to be sitting on the shelf for too long.
You just told me you want to compete more often. You fought twice in 2013, the last of which was April. Let's say you win in November. When would you like to compete again?
I'd be happy with April sometime. April or May. Five or six months away. I'm very happy with the fights Bellator is giving me right now. I'm not complaining about sitting on the shelf too long. They're definitely keeping me very busy. That's all I can ask for and want as a fighter.
Typically, four, five, maybe six months at most with no injures. Keep me busy. Keep me fighting.
You were at the last Glory event in Chicago. If it were possible and you could crossover in Glory for even just one fight, would you take it?
Oh, absolutely. I think that'd be a great change up. If I had the time and if I was on the shelf for a little bit, I would be all for it. It's definitely a part of my training and I would like to put 100 percent focus into one martial art. I think I'd do really well at that.