(Pat Curran keeps Roger Huerta at bay.)
Although his parents had told him stories about his cousin Jeff, Patrick Curran didn’t formally meet the jiu-jitsu black belt until he was 17-years-old. That’s when the Florida-bred wrestling standout from Olympic Heights Community High School showed up at his cousin’s wedding and began learning all about his occupation.
“I heard about him, but I just heard he taught martial arts around the world. That’s all I knew of him,” the Bellator FC lightweight explains. “I didn’t know he was a fighter, I didn’t know the sport too well, and my parents would tell me about him, but I had no idea until I met him. He showed me exactly what he did and I fell in love with it.”
That was the beginning of the 22-year-old’s meteoric rise in mixed martial arts and on Thursday Night, he could inch closer to fame, glory and a title shot against Eddie Alvarez if he defeats Toby Imada in the Bellator FC Lightweight Tournament final.
After spending the summer of 2007 summer with Team Curran in Chicago, Illinois, he was hooked on mixed martial arts and moved to the “Windy City” to continue his training later that year. Already with a strong wrestling base, Curran began expanding on that as his cousin taught him submissions and proper striking. Since he could only train part time, he worked construction full time with his uncle.
Only a few months into training, Curran made his pro debut in February 2008 for Xtreme Fighting Organization. Despite feeling the nerves, he submitted Tony Hervey with a rear-naked choke in the first round. He would rattle off seven more wins and suffer three losses, but it was enough to get the then-featherweight looked at by World Extreme Cagefighting. Talks, however, fell flat.
“I’m not exactly sure [what happened],” Curran says. “My cousin was always trying to work on different deals with me and we were waiting for the right contracts. But yeah, I heard they were looking at me, they knew of me [and] they knew I was Jeff’s cousin. I left it up to my cousin to deal with that.”
This past February, he traveled to England and defeated Robbie Oliver, one of the top European featherweights, at Trojan MMA via unanimous decision. Bellator FC was calling Curran and his agent days later.
“Went back to Chicago, came back home and I had heard one of the lightweights got injured in the tournament,” he recalls. “My agent jumped all over it and wanted me to get in the tournament. I think it was a month out from the fight, so once he found out I got in the tournament, I just started putting on weight and lifting a lot to get up to 155. We couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
Curran made his Bellator debut in April and was an underdog in the lightweight tournament. He faced Mike Ricci in the quarterfinals and wound up knocking him out three minutes into the contest. Then, he fought the favorite, Roger Huerta, in the quarterfinals. Although many expected Huerta to plow through Curran, the 22-year-old upset him via unanimous decision.
In two years, Curran had transformed himself from a high school wrestler to Bellator’s dark horse. “I pretty much just got on the scene and I’m starting to get recognized a little bit more, and I’m still young. This is like the beginning of my career,” Curran says. “Roger is not overrated. He’s still a top contender. He’s one of the best fighters, in my opinion. I really respect him as a fighter. It was just my night that night.”
Now Curran is getting prepared for the next biggest fight of his career as he meets Toby Imada, who made headlines last year for submitting Jorge Masvidal with an inverted triangle choke, at the Bellator FC lightweight tournament final. While there is a lot on the line – including one hundred thousand dollars and a title shot against Eddie Alvarez – the fight is also taking place in Hollywood, Florida, which is approximately thirty minutes from Curran’s hometown.
“This is a huge fight, a huge opportunity,” he says. “This whole tournament is almost a little unreal because to make this amount of money in this short of time is unbelievable and it’s changed my life so far. I’m able to train full time and really see my levels start to jump, and this is the last fight of the tournament against Toby Imada. He’s a tough fighter. It’s hard to expect what’s gonna happen.”
Not only has Curran risen up the ranks in MMA, but he’s also developed a relationship with the cousin he met for the first time just five years ago. And, it’s safe to say the family bond is stronger than ever.
“We’re almost like the same person,” Pat Curran says. “We both have a passion for the sport now and we’re both able to train together, go to family get togethers and parties. We have a good time together now.”