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What bad blood? For Pat Curran, Patricio Pitbull is ‘just another stepping stone'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

At some point -- Pat Curran can't quite remember when -- Patricio Freire's chagrined grumbles and random bursts of aggression faded into background noise, a sort of rage-fueled, two-year long stream of dead air that Curran was more than happy to ignore.

Nearly 22 months have passed since the two rivals competed in the first-ever Bellator fight to broadcast on Spike TV, and in that time the champ has heard it all: complaints about the scoring that awarded Curran a split decision (and the belt) that fateful night, complaints about the preferential treatment Curran allegedly received from former Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, and of course, complaints about the automatic rematch Rebney gifted Curran once the champ lost his featherweight strap to Daniel Straus in listless fashion.

"He's obviously upset," Curran says of Freire. "I mean, I don't blame him either. I beat him. He's pretty upset that I got the (Straus) rematch instead him getting the fight. It's just the way the world works. This is how this sport is. I was given an opportunity to have the rematch and, you know, I'd be stupid not to take it. So I'm really not too worried about what he's saying and what's on his mind. He's just another stepping stone in my eyes."

Through all the bitterness, Curran rarely allowed himself to get sucked in. He captured his belt back in electric fashion, plopping a ruby red cherry atop his Straus trilogy sundae with a Hail Mary choke in the closing moments of the fifth and final round. Then a summer dance date with Freire was set, and considering the way "Pitbull" talked about it, the contract may as well have read ‘pistols at dawn.'

But once again the grudge match wasn't meant to be. Curran pulled out with a calf injury two weeks prior to fight night, and somewhere in Natal, another blood vessel burst inside Freire's neck as he speculated to reporters about how the injury that sidelined the scared little champ wasn't that serious at all.

Curran admits now: that slight was really the only one that made him see red, albeit briefly.

"That was just him being stupid," he says. "There's no reason I have to fake an injury, especially at this level of the game. I'm a professional athlete, I've been doing this for a living for about seven years, and this is the life I chose to live. I'm not afraid of anybody.

"[Freire] really doesn't mean anything to me. He's not affecting my life at all, and I think it's kind of funny that I affect his life that much. He probably loses sleep over it, you know? He can talk as much as he wants. ... You're just another stepping stone, another opponent who is put in front of me, and I'm going to go out there and look to put on my best performance."

It's rare to see animosity so unrequited in the fight game, but hey, Curran's nonchalance makes a bit of sense when you take a step back. After all, he has what Freire wants... why get your feathers ruffled when those six pounds of gold rest around your waist?

And so we march to the present, as Curran and Freire are once again scheduled to settle their differences in the main event of Bellator's season 11 debut on Friday, where the winner will become the first Bellator champion awarded a belt by new president Scott Coker. At least this time it looks like the date will stick.

Curran says he's leaps and bounds ahead of where he was last year, when he was struggling with severe depression and nearly quit the sport of his own accord. He recently relocated to Arlington, Texas to join up with Team Takedown -- home gym of UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks -- and he says the switch has reinvigorated his hunger for the pugilistic arts.

"I arranged to talk to a sports psychologist and he pretty much put me on the right path," Curran explains. "I've been making the right changes for my life and everything has been going great.

"It's my first time switching camps in my career, and it's a pretty big change for myself as well as just leaving my family at the gym, Team Curran. It's a big change, but I feel like it's the best decision for my career right now and I'm getting along great with all the coaches out here and my teammates. We're definitely killing it right now, everything is going great."

Ultimately, Curran knows this one won't be easy. His first battle against "Pitbull" left both combatants bruised and sporting their best day-after shiners. But the way he sees it, if a lesser version of himself already finished the job once, there's no doubt this new and improved model can do it again. Bad blood be damned.

"When we look at that (first) fight, obviously there's a handful of things that were working for me and he showed a lot of openings," Curran says. "It was a couple years ago so he definitely improved, but we're going to stick to what worked, just look for those same openings we had for the first fight.

"But you can't leave it to the judges. If the fight happens and it's that close again, it could go either way and judges might just feel like he won. That's why you shouldn't leave it to the judges, and I'm going to do everything I can to finish him this time. He's not going to have any excuses after this."