Pat Curran headlines Bellator 123 against Patricio Freire. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Pat Curran already believes he is one of the top featherweights in the world, regardless of promotion.
However, Bellator MMA’s reigning featherweight champion is still intent on improving, which is why he spent the duration of his most recent camp at Team Takedown. The Texas-based gym has produced a solid stable of talent, most notably UFC welterweight king Johny Hendricks. Curran, who previously trained at Team Curran with his cousin Jeff in Illinois, found the change to be beneficial.
“It’s a learning experience. Every time you train with somebody new or when you go somewhere new, everyone has a different outlook on the way they coach and the way they see things, and I have a very open mind,” Curran told Sherdog.com “I take everything in, and I’m learning everything from my striking to my ground and wrestling. I’ve taken a lot away from the coaches here and the training partners, and I couldn’t be happier. They definitely have pushed me as hard as I can go.”
Curran will defend the 145-pound strap in a rematch with Patricio Freire in the Bellator 123 main event at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Friday night. After that bout, “Paddy Mike” plans on moving to Texas in hopes of making Team Takedown a more permanent training home.
“I love the way things are running here. Also, my parents are pretty close to the area too,” he said. “I’m pretty much dead set on moving down here and training at Takedown full time.”
Curran first faced Freire in January 2013 at Bellator 85, an event which marked the promotion’s debut on Spike TV. An aggressive “Pitbull” put Curran in danger on a couple occasions, but the Illinois native was able to land his jab effectively while capitalizing on his opponent’s forward movement to earn a narrow split decision.
The champion would prefer a more decisive performance this time around.
“I left it to the judges, I went five rounds and it was just too close of a fight. I saw the mistakes at my end, and I wasn’t as active and as busy as I wanted,” Curran said. “I just want to put the pace on him, put the pressure on him -- definitely throw a lot more combinations and stay more active. Just get him thinking a lot, have him moving, have him second guessing why he even took this fight.”
While Freire’s power has helped to earn him finishes against the likes of Georgi Karakhanyan, Wilson Reis, Diego Nunes and Justin Wilcox under the Bellator banner, Curran believes he can use the Brazilian’s all-out approach to his advantage.
“It’s real easy to take angles. If he comes with that aggression again, that’s only gonna play a role in my favor. It’s going to be easier to set up certain combinations, certain moves and that’s what we’re expecting,” he said. “He wants to go out there and knock guys out and hit them hard with all his power. Of course, we’re expecting that, and that’s what happened in the first fight. It can very well happen again this second fight.”
Just as Curran was featured in Bellator’s initial foray on Spike, he will also help lead the charge as the promotion goes head to head against UFC Fight Night “Mousasi vs. Jacare 2” in nearby Ledyard, Conn. While he isn’t too concerned with the ratings battle, Curran does like the direction Bellator is headed under the guidance of new President Scott Coker.
“I’m liking the changes. They got rid of the tournament format. They’re focusing on these bigger venues and bigger fights. It won’t be [fight cards] every week,” he said. “Coker has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge in the sport. He’s done great things in the past, and he’s bringing all that knowledge over to us now.”
Curran isn’t looking past Freire, but he knows that he still has unfinished business with Daniel Straus. Straus upset Curran at Bellator 106 to capture the featherweight crown, but Curran regained the strap by submitting the Ohioan with a rear-naked choke with just 14 seconds remaining at Bellator 112 in March. Had that fight gone to the judges, Curran would have likely lost on points.
Straus will face Wilcox at Bellator 127 on Oct. 3. Should everything work out, Curran, who also owns a knockout victory over Straus in 2009, sees a fourth meeting between the two featherweights as inevitable.
“I just feel like Straus deserves it; it’s only fair to him. He’s a great guy; he’s a hell of a fighter. I see him deserving of a fourth fight and a rematch with me. It’s only fair now. Bellator gave me the rematch when he pretty much dominated me and won a unanimous decision,” Curran said.
Of course, Freire will have plenty to say about that. Curran can see something of a round-robin eventually taking place between the three fighters at the top of Bellator’s featherweight division.
“I see a lot of rematches between me, ‘Pitbull’ and Straus in the future,” he said.