Is Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran one of the best featherweights in the world?
A credible case can be made for Curran's place among MMA's elite 145 pound fighters and if you ask the new champion himself, he unequivocally sees the Jose Aldo's and Hatsu Hioki's of the world as peers.
"I definitely see myself being one of the top fighters," Curran told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "If I compare myself to any one of those fighters, I'd do a great job fighting and putting on a great show against them," Curran insisted.
"I know I can beat anyone in the top 5, top 10."
"It was actually the first scramble once Joe tried to take me down," Curran noted. "I was getting back to my feet or trying to scramble away and it popped. I felt it pop. Right after that it started shifting around. It was early in the first round."
"After the first round was done I mentioned to [my corner] right away that my ankle was shifting around. Felt like every time I was pivoting and moving and defending the takedown my foot was staying in place but my leg and ankle joint was moving around. It didn't feel right, so I definitely hurt it."
Injury or not, it was arguably Curran's most impressive victory to date. Warren may lack the extensive resume of a Marlon Sandro or technical ground prowess of Toby Imada, but the standout amateur wrestler is incredibly durable and even in modern MMA, that counts for quite a bit.
"He was definitely a tough opponent. He can take a beating," admitted a relieved Curran. "Especially after the first round. I knocked him down. He was able to pop back up and recover really quickly. I wasn't expecting that especially after his last fight coming off a knockout. I thought he was going to have a glass chin and not recover like that, so that definitely surprised me."
If there's an Achilles Heel to Warren's game, however, Curran believes the former champion's bad techincal instincts cause him to absorb disturbing levels of damage.
"He's a wrestler. Every time he starts getting hit his hands go straight out. He's not defending himself properly," Curran argued and then drew a distinction with himself. "As a striker when you start getting hit, your hands go up, you start protecting your head and he kinda just did the opposite. In my opinion, I think he needs to fix that. He needs to start defending himself a little bit better."
Like many others within the MMA community, Curran also did not view the timing of the stoppage that night by referee Jeff Malott as a particularly good call for Warren's health. "Watching the fight over he definitely should've stopped it ten, fifteen seconds earlier," said an adamant Curran. "Nobody deserves to get a beating like that. I hope Joe has a quick recovery and no permanent damage."
But as Curran eyes his next challenge - a title fight with Patricio Friere - he also has taken inventory of what got him to his current position. How has a fighter no one knew much about or expected to do so well exceeded all expectations?
"To me, I really feel like it's the Bellator format, just having those three fights so close together," said Curran. "It's just one big, long training camp and you just really learn and gain a lot from that. I really think I'm living proof of that."
"Your level jumps so much, you're focused on these three fights in such a short amount of time. You're constantly evolving, constantly improving. I really have to say it has a lot to do with my success."
There's no timeline just yet on when Curran will return. There's also no telling when the MMA community may universally declare Curran of the featherweight division's best. Either way, he's not worried about rushing timelines. He's certain he's in the right place in Bellator and that this is the right time. In his mind, as long as focuses on winning and doing so spectacularly as he did on Friday, the rest of the pieces of his career will fall into place.
"As long as I put on a good performance and keep finishing my opponents, I'll get the recognition."