Curran: There's No Biz Like Fight Biz

By Chris Yucus Aug 20, 2008
For Jeff Curran (Pictures) the world of fighting is a business -- and business is good.

The 30-year-old WEC fighter has had a busy couple of weeks. Over 2,000 fans turned up to witness the twenty-fifth edition of his Xtreme Fighting Organization (XFO) event in Island Lake, Ill. The next day, Curran hosted the grand opening of his new three million dollar, 24000-square-foot gym in his hometown of Crystal Lake.

If that were not enough, Curran also managed to land a new WEC deal for former IFL slugger Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) (29-11), whom he manages alongside the UFC’s Eric Schafer (Pictures) (9-3-2) and Nate Mohr (Pictures) (8-5), as well as other Team Curran fighters.

Curran certainly illustrates the success to be had by fighters that take advantage of the booming business opportunities that have arisen outside the cage. He first flexed his entrepreneurial muscle at the age of 19, when no gym in the area provided the jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing tutelage crucial to the fight game. At the time, Curran didn’t look at it as a business.

“I had a goal of having an academy but I never thought about making money or making a large investment off of it,” recalls Curran.

Still, Curran had a certain knack and, more importantly, persistence.

“Jeff’s always been a real good businessman; it’s not like he got here overnight,” says Monte Cox, Curran’s longtime manager. “He had a really nice gym before this, and a decent one before that. He’s worked his way up, he’s good with money, he’s good with fundraising, and this is the result of his work.”

In an 800-square-foot room in a carpet warehouse owned by his uncle, Curran began teaching, and like many others around him, had no idea the heights mixed martial arts would later enjoy.

“I don’t think anybody really envisioned the sport going this far,” says Curran. “Definitely for me, I didn’t expect it to be this big.”

Curran’s love for fighting led him to many of the varying roles that he could play within it. It got to the point where Curran saw one endeavor feeding another.

“It’s all encompassing, the whole formula for what I have comes back to having people on the mat, teaching jiu-jitsu and having fun with them,” he says. “I promote fights, for example, to keep my gym open, I keep my gym open so fighters have a place to work and make money, pursue their dream of being a fighter. At the same time the students who don’t fight are buying tickets to these shows. It’s a big cycle and everybody gets out of it what they want to get out of it.”

There have been sacrifices though.

“It’s hard, I don’t prioritize fighting like I should,” says Curran, who has had back-to-back losses in his latest fights. The setback recently prompted him to announce that he would drop in weight to compete for the first time at 135 pounds.

“I’ve put my gym way before myself all these years, and I think that’s what has made me successful,” he adds. “The gym is running itself now, and now I have more time to focus on my career.”

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Pedro Sauer, Curran’s career has included appearance in the UFC and Pride Fighting Championships though a world title still eludes him.

Cox credits Curran’s incredible work ethic with the strides “Big Frog” has made.

“It’s difficult, but Jeff’s one of those guys that wants to work a 100-hour week,” says Cox. “If he wanted to do a 40-hour week I don’t think it would work. He has a lot of drive and energy, and right now I think he’s balancing it pretty well.”

While a fight at 135 pounds awaits, Curran has other irons in the fire. He’s branching out into the world of fitness with Big Frog Nutrition, a supplement line geared specifically toward MMA fighters that he developed with his trainer David Davis, of the Davis Speed Center.

There’s also the hope that the XFO, already a dependable regional promotion that promotes his own fighters, can be taken to the next level.

“If I can get to the point where I’m making enough money, I’ll take a risk out of my own pocket and bring in the lighting and go to the big arenas,” says Curran. “Then I’ll start trying to produce two, three, or four really high-level shows, and hopefully turn around and sell it to a network.”

Never settling with what one has seems to serve Curran well.

“I’ve always had to do multiple things to survive; I still do because I re-invest everything into my school,” he says. “If I just fought I could have lived off of fighting three or four years ago and just fought. But I’m not going to fight forever, and I have to set something up for when I’m retired.

“I want to build to something bigger than just being a fighter, I want to build a legacy to set up a future for the kids and my staff,” Curran adds. “I just want everybody to enjoy the business and be successful. If that means me sacrificing myself and my time that’s what I’ll do.”
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