Pat Curran is a favorite in Bellator's Summer Series. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- When Pat Curran stepped into the cage at Bellator Fighting Championships 17 in May 2010, he met with UFC veteran and perennial fan favorite Roger Huerta. Most thought the Bellator lightweight tournament was simply a device for the promotion to put together a big-money fight between Huerta and reigning champion Eddie Alvarez. Curran had other plans.
After three rounds, Curran had his hand raised with a unanimous decision victory, having used his greatly improved boxing to outpoint Huerta. He then went on to beat Bellator Season 1 tournament finalist, Toby Imada en route to challenging the world-ranked Alvarez. Curran couldn't put a dent in Alvarez, but neither could the champion stop his challenger. Curran came up short, he proved his skill and toughness to many who thought he would be easy fodder for the titlist.
Curran has ostensibly let this success at lightweight lie as it does: in the past.
"I only moved up to lightweight because I was offered the spot. 145 pounds is where I belong," Curran humbly reiterates whenever he is asked about the move. It is now a new day in his fighting life. Just recently pegged as an underdog who proved all naysayers wrong in his run at lightweight, Curran is now looked at as one of the heavy favorites to win the Bellator's Summer Series featherweight tournament.
Curran showed just why he is in this position last night at Bellator 46 in Florida. Taking on tough brawler Luis Palomino, Curran dropped "Baboon" quickly, nearly knocking him out, before opting to finish with a brilliant applied Peruvian necktie -- against a Peruvian, no less -- in the first round. And yet, when he is quizzed about the submission, Curran is soft-spoken and nonchalant, the polar opposite of his thrilling finish.
"I've been working on the Peruvian necktie a lot, catching everyone in our gym," he shrugs.
Curran's boss, Bjorn Rebney, on the other hand, has been much more impressed.
"Every time I see Pat Curran step in to the cage, I see a further evolution of his game," notes the Bellator CEO, "I think I've seen something like one other Peruvian necktie in the last four years. I simply can't wait to see the next step in the evolution of Pat Curran."
Curran's goals are much more short-term. Perhaps because of already having fought through a Bellator tournament, the Crystal Lake, Ill., resident's gaze doesn't extend much beyond the next round of the tournament.
"I got exactly what I wanted tonight. I got in and finished with no injuries, now I'm ready for the second round. It couldn't have gone any better," he explains.
Jeff Curran, Pat's elder cousin and trainer, is more willing to expand on what the move and the win hold for his protege.
"At lightweight, Pat was bound to come across some guys who were bigger and more physical, He's very skilled and technical but the entire game now is about technique," explains the WEC veteran. "He'll be one of the bigger guys now and still have the edge that he does. I think he matches up well with anyone in this division."
And yet, as fans and critics begin to discuss the Bellator tournament's final four, how Curran stacks up with slated July opponent Ronnie Mann, and the forthcoming Bellator featherweight title rematch between Joe Warren and Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, the 23-year-old is fairly disinterested in how he matches up with anyone in particular.
"Look, it's a tournament format. You have to fight hard to win and get up to the championship," he says. "Brackets don't always pan out the way you expect, so it's not worth my looking at anyone I'm not fighting next."
The British standout Mann earned an equally stunning knockout victory over Adam Schindler earlier in the night, the only man on the bill who showed the flair and thrill that Curran did in his own performance. At least one Curran came away impressed.
"He looked great, but Monday we get back to work and study tape. Then we'll figure out how to approach him," says cousin-trainer Jeff of the Shawn Tompkins-trained Mann. "Shawn Tompkins is like a brother to me. Our guys are always facing each other on the highest level. It's just a matter of doing the work leading up to the fight."
Jeff remains confident. Pat? His demeanor is no surprise.
"I'll do the work and study the tape, and we'll come up with something," he shrugs. "The more fights I have, the better. This is my life, this is what I love to do."