The Over Under Dog

Bellator Featherweight Champion Pat Curran is out of his cousin’s shadow and no longer flying under the MMA radar.

On May 6, 2010, Pat Curran was supposed to be nothing more than cannon fodder for UFC veteran Roger “El Matador” Huerta, who entered the Bellator Lightweight Tournament on a theoretical crash course with then-lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Curran was overlooked and underestimated, however, after 15 minutes of beating Huerta to the punch, his hand was raised in victory.

One month later, Curran was depositing a $100,000 check after winning the tournament. Curran came up short in his title shot against Alvarez, but that didn’t deter him one bit, and he dropped to his more natural weight of 145 pounds for the 2011 Bellator Featherweight Tournament. Less than five months later, Curran was depositing yet another $100,000 check, becoming the first Bellator fighter to win two tournaments in two weight classes.

On March 9, Curran received his second title shot. This time, Curran would not be denied, and he drove his knee into Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren’s grill and unleashed a vicious onslaught of punches until Warren’s listless body sank to the canvas. Two years after being perceived as a doormat for Huerta, 24-year-old Curran was a champion.

“I never got frustrated with being the underdog,” Curran says. “I actually like being the underdog. It’s motivating. I wanted to prove that I am here to stay. It was only a matter of time before I became the champion.”

Admittedly, becoming the champion has been an experience that Curran couldn’t have prepared for. Since winning the title, he has been jet setting across the country courtesy of his sponsors and appearing at events such as Spike TV’s Guys Choice Awards. But Curran is a fighter first, and he doesn’t get caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle like some of his peers. With two $100,000 checks in two years and more money coming his way as long as he remains champion, Curran opted to invest in himself.

“I do like to have fun and let loose, but I don’t get caught up in the party scene,” he says, as he gears up for his first title defense on August 24 against the Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. “I’m investing in my training first. I can focus on getting the right training and not have to worry about my finances anymore.”

Yup, life is good for Pat Curran.

But just think, if it wasn’t for his cousin Jeff “Big Frog” Curran, Pat could have been fighting fires somewhere in Florida instead of fighting in the cage.

“I owe it all to Jeff,” says Curran. “When Jeff first told me about MMA, I was fresh out of high school and wasn’t really interested in it. I wanted to be a firefighter.”

A Florida High School wrestling standout, Curran admits that he wasn’t thrilled at the thought of an occupation that required him to get punched in the face for a living. But with Jeff barreling toward a WEC title shot and remaining in Pat’s ear, the younger cousin finally gave in and relocated to Chicago to begin his MMA career.

“I was at a point where nothing was working out in my life,” he says. “I figured that if I didn’t do it then, I’d regret it. I moved to Chicago, and it’s been a life changing experience ever since.”

When Pat started his career, Jeff was 29-9-1 and fresh off of a loss in a WEC title bout with Urijah Faber. Since then, the older Curran has gone 4-6, with his recent stint in the UFC ending in back-to-back losses to Scott Jorgensen and Johnny Eduardo. With Jeff’s MMA career struggling, Pat has realized that he’s no longer just a student, and he is now a teacher who can work alongside his cousin at Team Curran and help him get through his career issues while keeping the Curran name relevant in MMA.

“Growing up in this sport, I looked up to my cousin [Jeff] and Bart Palaszewski, and I wanted to be just like them,” he says. “Now, a big part of my life is teaching and talking to younger fighters. I want them to know what I went through. If I see a lot of promise in a guy, I’m going to do my best to get him to reach his full potential.”

Despite his newfound responsibilities as a fighter, teacher, and champion, Pat still considers himself an evolving athlete. The hunger that burned inside him before winning the title hasn’t dissipated one bit. Complacency is unacceptable for the 24-year-old.

“I’m more motivated than ever right now,” he says. “I’ve worked so hard to become the champion, so for me to lose it right away would be devastating. I’m not ready for that to happen, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that it doesn’t.”

Knowing that he faces stiff competition against Patricio Freire and a bunch of hungry featherweights looking to take his title—including Season 6 Tournament winner Daniel Straus—Curran is focused on sharpening his skills to fend off the onslaught. While his wrestling is noteworthy and his ground game impressive, it is his much improved stand-up that has turned heads. Sensational knockouts over Marlon Sandro and Joe Warren have come courtesy of his dynamic striking.

“I’m just starting to see myself as a striker,” says Curran. “I’ve always been way more comfortable on the ground, but my striking is catching up.”

Curran is always looking for a challenge, and he’s even entertained the idea of taking a professional boxing match between MMA fights. But one thing that he isn’t looking to do is follow Hector Lombard to the UFC. While the UFC could use a few fresh faces in its featherweight division, Curran is happy being the face of Bellator as it begins its trek into mainstream exposure on Spike TV in 2013.

“In my weight class, I feel that Bellator has the best fighters in the world, and all I want to do is fight the best,” he says. “I earned my stripes in Bellator, and I’m happy to be a part of it as the champion as we move to a bigger network. This is where I want to be.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

Bellator Featherweight Champion Pat Curran makes his first title defense against Season 4 Tournament winner Patricio Freire on August 24 at Bellator 63 in Tunica, Mississippi. Here’s a look at how the two featherweights stack up against each other.

PAT CURRAN

Age: 24

Height: 5’9”

Record: 17-4

Fighting out of: Crystal Lake, IL

Gym: Curran Martial Arts Academy

PATRICIO FREIRE

Age: 25

Height: 5’5”

Record: 17-1

Fighting out of: Natal, Brazil

Gym: Team Nogueira

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