The last time Pat Curran visited the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. he came away with a shiny gold accessory. That was in March of 2012, when he took Bellator’s featherweight title against Joe Warren in one of the nastiest sequences to go down on record. Curran pummeled Warren on the fence during a 15-second stretch at the end that left people wincing and calling out for referee mercy. When the referee finally got to the scene, the 24-year old Curran was the champ.
Almost exactly two years later, he’s no longer the champion. After defending the 145-pound belt twice, he lost to Daniel Straus in November in a listless performance. There were stretches of that five-round affair where ol’ "Paddy Mike," as he’s called, looked like he would have rather been anywhere but in the cage fighting Straus.
The truth was, he would have rather been anywhere but fighting Daniel Straus in the cage.
"More than the fight in general, it was my personal life leading up to the fight, which I was able to take care of and get sorted out," he told MMA Fighting. "To sum it, I suffer from severe depression and anxiety issues. I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, but I was recently able to find this out what it was and address it. I’ve been seeing a doctor, and I got the right medication. And since I sought help and took the steps to change that, I’ve become a new person. I’ve completely changed my world, and I’m feeling great right now."
Curran has been quietly battling bouts of depression for a long time, through wins, losses, highs, lows and everything in between. He says that in general he’s been feeling unmotivated, and worse, most days like he’s teetering over a dark chasm. Now that he has visited a sports psychologist to identify the problem and is dealing with it he says it’s important to bring depression to light, particularly in a contact sport where handing out concussions is part of the gig.
"We get hit in the head, which is known to cause depression, and I’m sure I’m not the only one with this issue," he says. "I’m sure there are other fighters with this issue, but I have no problem talking about it if it’s going to help other fighters in my situation."
Though he’s been particularly masterful at dishing it out, Curran is no stranger to taking punishment, either. When he fought Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight belt at the Mohegan Sun in 2011 one of the lasting memories was his battered figure sitting on the dais at the post-fight press conference with a 10-mile stare.
If it’s been difficult for Curran to simply show up at the gym to prepare for a fight through his six-fight winning streak, it’s been doubly soul-crushing coming off a loss. He had to work to get back after the Alvarez setback, and this recent performance against Straus in Long Beach, when he lost the belt, did a big number on him. To the point that Curran nearly walked away from the game altogether.
"It really put me in a dark hole," he says. "I was depressed before then, but that just put me at an all-time low. I was ready to pack up my stuff in Illinois and move back in with my parents and search for a new career. I was ready to give up everything. Even well before that fight I had that same mentality. Not having fun…just wishing I wasn’t doing this anymore…feeling like I just don’t want to be a fighter anymore.
"I remember saying that to a couple of my friends, and they would say, ‘why are you telling me this? You should be wanting to kill this guy right now, what’s wrong with you?’ But that was just my mindset going into that fight. It just really came down to anxiety and depression. It was really affecting my life."
Curran’s demeanor heading into this Friday’s trilogy-capper with Straus at Bellator 112 is positive. Not only is he openly discussing his situation with media, but he says he’s having fun going to the gym again. The storm clouds have given way to sun.
"It’s been a rough road for sure, but I want to say the last month since we got the rematch and I signed the contract it’s been great," he says. "I feel like a completely new person right now. I’m more motivated than ever, and I have this fire inside of me that I just want to get that title back. I just want to get that loss off my mind. That loss is really bothering me. It’s just the fact that I knew that wasn’t me. That wasn’t the Pat Curran that everybody was used to seeing, that drives me nuts."
And as far as fellow featherweight contender Patricio Freire’s complaint about his immediate rematch with Straus -- rather than "Pitbull" himself, who has been waiting on merit -- the old fire of the Irish can even be heard bubbling over.
"Every fighter needs to fend for themselves," Curran says. "This is my career. This is the way I make a living, and I’m not going to let this opportunity pass by. If Bellator wants to give me that rematch, I’m going to take it of course. I really don’t care what ‘Pitbull’ thinks or anybody thinks. It doesn’t bother me at all. He can wait his turn.
‘The funny thing is, this is the second time I’ve jumped in front of him for a fight. I did the same thing when he broke his hand for Warren, and he was pissed off about that. So now he can only be even more pissed. I think it’s funny, because he has a little attitude problem so he gets all worked up and pissed off pretty easily. I could see him steaming right now."
The last time Curran stepped in for Freire was at the same Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. He’ll try and recapture the belt at the same place he captured it the first time, almost exactly two years later. Those are fun alignments.
But from Curran’s perspective, the difference between this fight and that one are night and day.