In an era of MMA monikers such as ‘The Iceman,’ ‘The Predator’ and ‘The Massacre,’ the unassuming nickname ‘The Big Frog’ may not garner much attention, but don’t let the name fool you. WEC’s Jeff “The Big Frog” Curran has more hop in his step than the average guy and he’s got more irons in the fire than a Texas cattle rancher on branding day. Look to the frog to jump from Featherweight to Bantamweight in the WEC in 2009.
The name “The Big Frog” came about, oddly enough, about 10 years ago during warm-ups at Pedro Sauer’s school (Jeff is a first-degree black belt under Sauer) where two Brazilians kept calling him “big frog” in Portuguese. When Curran asked why, he was told he looked like the amphibian while doing frog-like warm-up exercises and he had a tattoo of a tree frog on his back. Even though the two occurrences were never linked, the name stuck.
Master of All Trades, Jack of None
Jeff Curran can best be described as a modern-day Renaissance man who has mastered many areas and is constantly reinventing himself. For starters, he owns and operates a multi-million dollar training facility and small MMA promotion, manages a few fighters and teaches Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai classes at his gym when he’s not training for professional MMA and boxing matches.
No stranger to the gym business, he’s been involved for 11 years, having moved locations seven times, and growing in size with each move. He is currently the president and head instructor of Curran Martial Arts Academy, a 24,000 square foot training facility in Crystal Falls, Illinois, near where he grew up.
“A lot of gyms are like little training centers inside of fitness centers and I’m kind of the opposite; I’ve got a fitness center inside of a martial arts gym,” says Curran. The facility offers a plethora of activities, including Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai boxing, fitness classes, yoga and many programs for children.
Growing Smaller MMA Promotions
When he’s not teaching classes or training for a fight himself, Curran helps up-and-coming fighters—like his cousin Pat Curran, Nate Mohr and Bart Palaszewski—and others train for fights through X-treme Fighting Organization, a small fight company he co-promotes with his manager Monte Cox and Dan Lardy, one of his partners at the gym. Mohr fights for UFC, and Palaszewski recently won his WEC debut with a KO over Alex Karalexis, which also earned Fight of the Night Honors.
“We wanted to…promote fighters from our area instead of the Iowa-Quad Cities area, where Extreme Challenge was born,” explains Curran. “This was my way of having to showcase my fighters and other local fighters and giving them a fair shot and a chance to get in front of the local fans because there’s nothing big going on in Chicago…I don’t really trust most of the promoters in Chicago or in the Midwest in general that I’m not connected with because they’ve done me wrong or done friends of mine wrong. There’s just no reason to go give somebody else our fighters when they can just fight for us.”
Add to the mix of daily happenings, Curran is a devoted husband and father. He and wife Sarah have a young son, Ty, and are expecting another son soon. He calls his wife, “a trooper” for being so supportive and tolerant of his busy lifestyle.
So how did such a busy person get involved in MMA? Curran says it all started back in 1992. The following year, he watched Royce Gracie at UFC 1 and was hooked. “Up until that point I was just learning Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art and…basically I didn’t know what I was involved in. As soon as I saw Royce Gracie fight, it sparked the interest and I started seeking it out and that was pretty much at the point that I realized that some day I want to fight, it’s just never something that was supposed to happen on this level.”
Three Gracies in particular served as role models with their philosophies of mixed martial arts. Curran says Royce, Rickson and Renzo Gracie “are three people who have always seemed to have more of a philosophy behind their training and not just trying to be the tough guy…I always looked up to them, but…the new up-and-comers that I’m training with every day…those are more the guys I look up to; they’re dealing with things on a different level than we had to deal with.”
The philosophies that Curran puts first include, “the philosophy of just being technical and making sure that technique comes before power…and making sure you treat the sport of MMA like a martial art and the respect issue that goes on.”
“I think a lot of the new fighters don’t have that [respect] because in the sport of MMA it’s kind of the norm to be the tough guy, you know, and have an attitude and that’s what’s making fighting famous, but I think that we still need to keep that martial arts respect issue.”
Learning Opportunities: Faber and Brown
Respecting Curran’s tenacity for multi-tasking is easy. In addition to his many business duties, Curran, at just 31, has had over 40 MMA bouts, with an overall 30-10-1 record. Before falling to his two most recent opponents—Mike Brown and Urijah Faber—he won 15 of his 16 matches just prior to the meeting up with Faber.
During the Faber match at WEC 31, Curran had an impressive first round, but lost to submission in the second round. Jeff explains, “In [the Faber fight], I’m to blame because I had 100 percent control of him and all I needed to do was be a little more aggressive and start dropping some shots on his face…and he would have exposed his neck most likely.”
“I got really content and comfortable and I just felt unthreatened and once the tables were turned and he picked up the aggression a little bit to come out of it…I was still fine, but when we went into the second round and I ended up getting cut, that was kind of the turning point.”
“Once I got cut and I was on my back and had blood in my eyes…I started doing things more on feel. I heard that time was almost up and I made a move to try to get back to my feet and pressure him a little bit to finish a round and I got caught in that choke and I don’t know, I just wish it would’ve gone a little differently than it did.”
Six months after the disappointing loss to Faber, Curran’s decision loss to Mike Brown (who defeated Urijah Faber for the WEC Featherweight title at WEC 36), was an easier pill to swallow. “[In the Mike Brown fight] I did what I felt I needed to do, but…I wish I had reacted differently but you can’t really change that…if I would have just pressured him a little more on my feet, a lot of things I wish I could’ve done differently, but it’s over with and that’s why it doesn’t really kill me too much.”
Making the Grade at Bantamweight
Like most everything in Jeff Curran’s life, he just keeps moving forward. After the two losses, it was announced that he would be moving down a weight class to the Bantamweight division.
Explains Curran, “There’s a couple guys entering the 145 division right now that are huge threats…one of them in particular I have a win against—Wagnney Fabiano—and I know that more than anything he wants to fight me again. I would love to fight him again, but my feeling tells me that he’s going to probably end up either a top contender right away or the champ soon, and just knowing his skill level after fighting him, there’s a good chance that he’s the title holder.
“I think I’ve got a good chance of getting world title at 135 a lot faster than I would [if I were to] work my way back through the 145 division, because they’ve got some other guys who deserve a shot. So this is my kind of ‘hook around the back’ approach to getting in that seat where I’m possibly a world champ at Bantamweight discussing possibly moving back to the division of Featherweight and having the current champion be one of two guys that I’m their only loss against and they want to redeem themselves against me and that makes for a pretty good way back into that division.”
Pro-Boxing as Training for MMA
In preparation for the Bantamweight division, Curran dropped weight and fought in a professional boxing match at 135 pounds, defeating Miguel Angel Figueroa by TKO in the third round. With the win, Curran’s professional boxing record advances to 2-2-1. Curran says professional boxing serves as a training outlet to hone his standup skills. “It was more just to test myself at that weight, to see how my energy level was, to see if I would actually make the weight because [I haven’t cut to that weight] since I was a freshman in high school…I had to get in there and see how my power would affect 135-pound guy.”
No Smack Talk on Miguel
How that power might affect another Miguel (WEC Bantamweight Champion) Torres that is—remains yet to be seen. Torres has accused Curran of “talking smack” and wanting an easy title shot against him at 135.
Curran is happy to clear up the accusations. “I have no hate or disrespect for Miguel,” says Curran. “It’s actually just the opposite—I like him and always consider him a friend.” As far as getting an easy shot, Curran has no such delusions of grandeur. He knows he’s working his way back up the ladder. His philosophy is simple: “I want to fight the best in the world and I believe Miguel has one of the best, if not the best, record out of all world champions, WEC and UFC alike.”
Now that he’s been tested a bit at 135, look for “The Big Frog” to make a splash at Bantamweight in the WEC in 2009. Whether it’s looking at the Faber and Brown fights as valuable learning experiences or growing as a businessman, fighter and family man, Jeff Curran is constantly reinventing himself—and continuing his quest to be top frog.
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