Daniel Straus is looking to get back into the Bellator title picture. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
When Daniel Straus relinquished his recently-acquired featherweight title to Pat Curran in the waning seconds of their fight at Bellator 112 in March, he admits that something was missing.
No, the Ohio native is not referring to his trademark dreadlocks, which he had shorn the previous day in order to make weight. Hair doesn’t make the man, and it most certainly doesn’t make the fighter.
“I used to rock a bald head; I used to rock short hair for a while. My hair was just part of my journey in this sport,” Straus told Sherdog.com. “A lot of people saw it as: He lost his hair; he lost his power. My power was in me. It has nothing to do with my hair. Short hair, long hair, butt hair -- it doesn’t matter.”
Straus was lacking far more than just hair, however. His mind was not 100 percent with him in the cage that night. Personal issues, which he prefers not to discuss in detail, led to a lack of focus -- which in turn ultimately led to him tapping out to a Curran rear-naked choke with 14 seconds remaining in a bout he was a virtual lock to win had it gone to the judges.
So now, as he enters his main event showdown with Justin Wilcox at Bellator 127 on Friday night at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., Straus is attempting to pick up the pieces. A man who has lost just twice in the last five years is now in what he calls a “rebuilding process.”
“I had to start back from the beginning -- look at what’s going on with my career; look at what’s going on with myself,” he said. “I originally didn’t get into this sport to be No. 1. None of that was my goal. It was just to pay my bills.
“But once you get to a certain point, you realize how good you can be and how good you are. You go back, you check yourself, you check your ego and you rebuild from there.”
Not that the previous version of Straus was all that bad. The American Top Team product is 8-2 under the Bellator banner, with his only losses coming to the promotion’s present (Patricio Freire) and most recent (Curran) champions. He acknowledges that despite the weight-cut issues, personal distractions and general lack of focus, the rematch with Curran was nearly in hand.
“I had the worst weight cut I’ve had, cut my hair and everything. The very next day I came out and damn near beat the dog s--t out of Pat until I lost,” Straus said.
Despite the chaos swirling around him, Straus attributes being able to nearly emerge victorious to the confidence he has developed over the years. When he dropped a three-round verdict to Freire in 2011, his self-belief was not nearly where it is today. If Straus wants to get the belt, he will likely have to go through “Pitbull,” who recently took a five-round decision against Curran to capture the 145-pound title at Bellator 123.
“Going into that fight, I just really wasn’t confident. Pitbull is an outstanding fighter. He’s a hard hitter,” Straus said. “But he didn’t do to me the things that he’s done to everybody else...My personal confidence -- not being cocky -- I just feel like it’s grown, and it’s in a solid place.”
Before he can go after Bellator gold, Straus has to defeat Wilcox, a former bodybuilder and wrestler at Edinboro University. The powerfully-built Strikeforce veteran is 3-1 in Bellator, with wins over Jason Fischer, Joe Taimanglo and Akop Stepanyan. Straus is aware of what Wilcox does well -- he just doesn’t think it’s going to work on Friday night.
“I think his strengths are going to play against him in this fight...I’m expecting him to try to push me into the cage -- have a couple punch combos and try to get me to the mat. Everything that he does, I’ve done as well before. Not that we have the same fighting style, because we really don’t. But I understand his grinding style. It’s a little better when you can understand somebody’s style.”
More importantly, Straus has a better understanding of himself -- and his place in the sport -- than he did several months ago when he came up short against Curran.
“I’ve learned a whole lot getting to that point. I wasn’t ready to step beyond that point,” he said.
Now, after learning from his team, his coaches and himself, Straus believes the rebuilding process is nearly complete.