Probably is the best word to use, because to a certain extent, Curtis shares the same mindset with Strickland. It’s the same mindset all high-level fighters have, one that leads a jiu-jitsu black belt to stand with a GLORY champ when a title shot is on the line.
Also Strickland, to put it diplomatically, is kind of a unique guy.
“Sean is Sean, man,” Curtis, who faces Jack Hermansson at UFC London, said Monday on The MMA Hour. “There was a clear game plan that we worked on in camp and went over. At the end of the day, Sean is definitely a live by the sword, die by the sword kind of guy, and even more so than getting a title shot, I think [what was] important to him was testing himself and seeing where he was, and a lot of people won’t get that.
“But until you’ve been in there with some of the best in the world, you have people telling you you can’t do something. ... They won’t understand sometimes, I hate to make it sound like this, but you all say that financially, it should be money before pride. But as a man in fighting, often times you will see that your pride comes first, for better or worse.
“You can’t fight without pride. You can’t be a high-level fighter without some sense of pride, and sometimes, to our detriment, we put that pride before everything else. But that’s what he chose to do, man, he wanted to test himself. He wanted to see, and it didn’t work out in his favor this time. It has most of the times, but this time, it didn’t. Sometimes, it’s more important to know than win. I’ll give him that. Fighters are different, man, but a lot of times, it’s more important to know than to win.”
Strickland found out when he took a left hook to the jaw that sent him crashing to the canvas in the first round of the July 7 pay-per-view fight. His strategy was roundly mocked, easy pickings for the internet trolls he courted with his outspoken character. Instead of shooting his mouth off, he was uncharacteristically humble about his mistakes in a post-fight video.
“Sean’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and Sean’s a good grappler, and his wrestling is very good,” Curtis said. “So were like, stay connected to him, don’t trade in kickboxing range, drag him down, wear him out, beat him up or submit him. Honestly, I figured Sean would TKO him. I figured he’d drag him down, lock up with him, drag him to the mat, let him get up, drag him to the mat, beat him up and beat him that way, which was the easiest path to victory.
“But Sean was like, ‘F*** your kickboxing, I’m going to kickbox you.’ So Sean goes and does Sean, because there’s nothing else you can expect from Sean other than for him to be Sean.”
Curtis might not be as brash as his teammate, but he is willing to risk everything perhaps to his detriment. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons he agreed to fight ranked middleweight Jack Hermansson at UFC London on about two weeks’ notice, though he said a significant bump in pay didn’t hurt. Strickland was to be Curtis’ corner before he “lost” his passport, prompting a scramble that led to Darren Till – his former training partner and Hermansson’s originally scheduled opponent – to accept the job on Twitter.
One of Curtis’ friends pointed out that he could go from a promising, middle-of-the-pack middleweight to a title contender in just two fights. He could also lose and move to the back of the line. That’s a wild scenario to contemplate. He didn’t expect any of this, but there’s a certain amount of freedom in taking a fight you’re supposed to lose. Faster than others, he gets to know whether he’s ready for the top tier. The next question is whether he chooses the safest route to find out.