Once again, Pat Curran is a large underdog. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Pat Curran burst onto the mixed martial arts scene as an underdog in the Bellator Fighting Championships Season 2 lightweight tournament, but he quickly made waves and turned heads. He knocked out Tristar Gym representative Mike Ricci in the first round of their quarterfinal match in April 2010 and followed it with an upset over Roger Huerta three weeks later. Curran backed up those wins with a split decision victory against Toby Imada in the final at Bellator 21.
“I’ve always been the underdog going into most of my fights, and it really doesn’t bother me at all,” Curran tells Sherdog.com. “I like coming in as the underdog and then coming out with the win; it’s that much better for me.”
Even more impressive than Curran’s string of victories and versatile skill set -- a crisp, precise standup game rife with counterpunching, powerful wrestling, effective takedown defense, good scrambles and strong ability from the clinch -- is the fact that the Florida native won the Season 2 tournament after moving up in weight.
Although he was unsuccessful in a bid for the Bellator lightweight title, Curran went all five rounds with champion Eddie Alvarez and lost by decision in April. However, he followed up the loss by quickly working his way through Bellator’s Summer Series featherweight tournament at the more natural weight of 145 pounds, adding increased strength and size to his precision, skill and technique.
Curran reached the tournament final by ousting Luis Palomino and Ronnie Mann. He submitted Palomino in the first round of their June 25 bout, during he showcased his standup skills before finishing the Peruvian via Peruvian necktie. Curran then went on to outpoint Mann in the semifinals on July 23, utilizing effective punches and knees, damaging leg kicks and aggressive cage control against the British featherweight.
Curran will face Nova Uniao black belt Marlon Sandro in the final at Bellator 48 on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and although the Brazilian martial artist holds seven wins by knockout, Curran believes he can expose some holes he noticed in the former Sengoku Raiden Championship titleholder’s standup game.
“When you throw wild, he tends to leave his head open and he doesn’t cover as much. He’s a real clean fighter on the outside, but when he starts getting into exchanges, he starts to expose himself a little bit more,” Curran says. “I feel like he has some openings that he exposed in the last couple fights, and I feel like I’m going to be able to expose those.”
Doug Mango, Curran’s boxing coach, agrees.
“Any fight can be tough,” Mango says. “This is a tough kid with a lot of experience. Technically, he’s not as clean as Mann is, so, in that [respect], it’s a little bit better for us. I think there’s going to be more openings that Pat can expose, but he’s still a tough kid. He comes in and he throws very hard. It’s a tough fight. Anything can happen.”
Although he remains confident going into the fight, Curran was quick to point out that he was not selling his opponent short.
“He’s still one of the top featherweights. He trains with some of the top featherweights in the world and comes from a really good camp, and he’s a very explosive and very powerful fighter,” Curran says. “I’m definitely not underestimating him.”
Curran (15-4, 5-1 BFC) has maintained his regular fight prep regimen, working on his boxing, kickboxing, grappling and wrestling, as well as strength and conditioning. However, he has made some slight modifications.
“I’m definitely doing some sprinting and conditioning for this fight since Marlon does put on a very high pace,” he says.
Sandro (19-2, 2-0 BFC) made his promotional debut at Bellator 46, winning a split decision against Genair da Silva in the Summer Series featherweight tournament quarterfinals on June 25. He then outpointed Nazareno Malegarie in the semifinals on July 23. Prior to his past three fights, all of which have gone to a decision, Sandro scored a string of three wins under the Sengoku banner, defeating his opponents -- Yuji Hoshino, Tomonari Kanomata and Masanori Kanehara -- via first-round knockout. He won the Sengoku featherweight championship in the process, though he later surrendered it in a decision loss to Hatsu Hioki in a December 2010 bout, his last before signing with Bellator.
The winner of the Summer Series tournament will receive $100,000 and a shot at three-time Greco-Roman wrestling world champion Joe Warren, the current Bellator featherweight titleholder.
When not preparing for a fight, Curran, a former high school wrestling standout, uses his time off to compete in grappling tournaments in the Chicagoland area. He has been successful in North American Grappling Association, United States Grappling and King Grappling competitions. UFC, WEC and Pride Fighting Championships veteran Jeff Curran, his cousin and head coach, pointed out that the 23-year-old is comfortable fighting in any position.
“I would say that Pat’s ready to keep the fight standing because he feels he’s got an advantage there with clean punches,” he said, “and if he decides to take the fight to the ground, he’s got no problem with that, either.”