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Jeff Curran Has Sights Set on WEC Bantamweight Title

Jeff Curran likes connecting with his fans, which is why he's recording a series of video blogs every day during his training for his upcoming fight against Joseph Benavidez at the April 5 World Extreme Cagefighting event in his hometown of Chicago. But while Curran is having fun getting ready to fight at home, he says he's all business in his approach.

That's why he's dieting his way down from featherweight (145 pounds) to bantamweight (135 pounds) and leaving the familiarity of his home and his gym in Crystal Lake, Illinois, to train in Florida with American Top Team.

"As competitive as MMA is getting, I can't go into any fight with a disadvantage," Curran told me in an interview on Wednesday. "I was smaller than the other 145-pounders at the highest level. The last few days I've been walking around at 142 or 143 pounds. I'm eating really well and changing my way of training, and fighting at bantamweight feels really natural to me."

And while Curran is coming off back-to-back losses against the two best featherweights in the world, Urijah Faber and Mike Brown, he believes he's well suited to make a run for the title at bantamweight, starting with that April 5 fight. When Curran steps into the cage against Joseph Benavidez, he expects the fight to go more or less the way he wants it.

"I expect him to try to take me down and establish himself on top, and I'm very comfortable on the ground."

That comfort on the ground comes from 16 years of experience with Brazilian jiu jitsu, starting shortly after Curran watched Royce Gracie win UFC 1.

"I've been doing jiu jitsu since I was 15," Curran said. "I wrestled in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, but in high school, my sport was Brazilian jiu jitsu. Watching the early UFCs, that was the initial spark. MMA wasn't MMA then, it was just fighting, people called it no holds barred. But I always wanted to be Royce Gracie."

By the time he was 20, Curran was fighting professionally and starting to make a name for himself. At age 25, Curran got a huge opportunity, fighting the Japanese star Kid Yamamoto, one of the best small fighters in the world. Curran lost a decision but was one of only three opponents to go the distance with Yamamoto.

"He's tough," Curran said. "I fought him in a Shooto match, and the ref was letting a lot of things go, like holding the ropes, which was really annoying. But my third round was my best round with him. I remember breaking a rib of his with a kick, and I felt like as the fight was going on I had him. ... I would like to see him in the WEC, but I personally think he'll stay in Japan where he's protected."

Having fought Yamamoto, Faber and Brown, Curran has gone against three of the four best smaller fighters in the world. And he has his sights set on taking on the fourth, WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres.

"I think I'm in the top two or three bantamweights right now," Curran said. "Mike Brown has dismantled his last two opponents and I went the distance with him. I showed my staying power in the 145-pound division and I'll be better in the 135-pound division. If I beat Benavidez impressively I definitely deserve a shot. I'm not looking past Joseph, but I'm definitely thinking I deserve a title shot. We'll let the WEC decide that after the fight."

Part of Curran's sense of urgency in wanting a title shot is realizing that, at age 31 and with 40 professional fights already under his belt, he doesn't have a long time left at the top of the fight game.

"Realistically, I would like to get the championship, defend it a few times and then make the decision of whether I want to continue in the sport," Curran said. "If everything goes well, I'd like to be in a position where I can focus more on my family in a few years."

Part of that focus on his family is Curran's work with the American Diabetes Association.

"I lost my father at 40 years old, when I was 18, to diabetes," Curran said. "For years I didn't really do anything about it, but I eventually decided that I needed to get involved, and when I started telling my story, what my dad went through and what I went through, watching him slowly go, people started asking me to come and give speeches. Now it's in my long-term plans to use my position to raise awareness about diabetes."

Curran knows that becoming a champion will help him grow his profile, and give him more opportunities to connect with fans and use his status for a good cause.

"I think it's up to the fighters to put on a great show and get the fans excited," Curran said. "That's what I'm going to do on April 5."