Much has changed for Pat Curran in just one year.
Not expected to even advance past the first round, the Team Curran fighter went on a Cinderella-like run through the Bellator season two lightweight tournament in 2010, scoring a close split decision victory over Toby Imada in the finals that many felt he didn't deserve.
He proved his worth in his title fight with Eddie Alvarez this past April, lasting the full five rounds with the champion, widely regarded as a top five lightweight in the world. And all this despite holding a serious experience and size disadvantage.
Now, Curran is on the doorstep of his second tournament victory, this one with no controversy at his more natural featherweight class. "Paddy Mike" has bulldozed through the first two rounds of the tournament, scoring an incredible Peruvian necktie victory in the quarterfinals and thoroughly dominating Ronnie Mann with aggressive stand-up in the semis.
The 23 year old prospect spoke with MMAmania.com just days before his huge upcoming fight against the number five ranked featherweight in the world, Marlon Sandro, in the tournament finals at Bellator 48. Curran explains the tremendous difference in confidence heading into this match-up compared to last year.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I was reading up on some of your comments you've made going into this tournament. You said that you knew you were going to win this featherweight tournament. I don't think that was the case the last time when you were heading into the lightweight tournament. Can you talk about the difference in your confidence level in this tournament compared to that last time?
Pat Curran: The first tournament I did, the lightweight tournament, I was just taking a filler spot because someone got injured. I said, "why not? I've got nothing to lose. Might as well go in the tournament." I was the underdog through that whole tournament. Everyone thought I was going to lose from my first fight all the way up to the finals. I really didn't have the confidence then, I just went in with a "nothing to lose" attititude and I just kept winning. Now, the rules have changed going into the featherweight tournament because I know I belong in there with the top guys. I know I have a long future ahead of me in MMA so I have the confidence now. Especially after that Eddie Alvarez fight, knowing I can take a punch from one of the top lightweights and lasting five rounds with him. That really boosted my confidence.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going back to when this tournament started, did you expect to be squaring off against Marlon Sandro in the finals? That was what a lot of the analysts picked for the finals after looking over the field.
Pat Curran: Honestly, I didn't even know my opponents or who I'd be facing. I didn't know anybody that was in the tournament. I didn't really look at it until I started preparing and getting ready for my first fight in the first round against Luis Palomino. As the tournament went on, I started studying the fighters pretty much for my matchups but really, until now, I didn't know who Marlon Sandro was. It's not because he's not a great fighter or a well-known fighter, it's just that I really don't follow the sport too much. I can't just have my whole life revolve around MMA.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The last time you fought Eddie Alvarez and he's a top five ranked lightweight in the world. Now with this fight, a lot of people still have Marlon Sandro ranked as a top five featherweight in the world. Do you feel that this is a chance for redemption to step up and get a huge win against a highly ranked opponent?
Pat Curran: I'm not really concerned about the rankings, but I feel that this fight with Marlon Sandro is actually at the weight class I want to be. I feel like I'm the stronger fighter, I'm the bigger fighter and I just feel more comfortable at the featherweight weight class. Going into this fight with Marlon Sandro, I feel really confident going into this fight. It's a huge difference, a major difference than the Eddie Alvarez fight. My confidence level is just through the roof.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like to talk about your stand-up style. From watching all your fights, you have a really patient, defensive style and you just explode forward catching your opponents by surprise. Can you describe how your stand-up skills have evolved?
Pat Curran: Yeah, fight by fight, each fight it's just constantly evolving. The more I train, the better I'm getting. I like to be that patient fighter. I look for my shots and I want to keep my hands up protecting myself. I feel that I'm gonna explode or attack when I feel that the time is right. I just wait for those openings.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of openings, you mentioned that there were some holes in Marlon Sandro's game in a couple interviews. You said he throws a lot of wild strikes at times. Is there anything specific that you've really noticed about him?
Pat Curran: Yeah, he's a real clean fighter on the outside. His stand-up is real neat but when he starts getting in an exchange, he starts dropping his hands from his chin and he throws real wild. I just feel like I'm going to be able to pick out my shots and land some hard shots on him. He didn't change the gameplan for the last two fights that I have seen. He definitely exposed a lot of himself so I feel like I've got a bead on him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had a great fight against Ronnie Mann last month, one of the top featherweight prospects out there and you said that you thought this fight against Sandro was going to be easier than that. Is there any specific reason why you think this could be easier than your fight with Ronnie Mann?
Pat Curran: With Ronnie Mann, he was a very technical fighter and he kept his hands up to protect himself very well throughout the whole fight so it was very hard for me to land my shots and look for openings. Like I said with Marlon Sandro, he leaves his chin up in the air and his head is wide open in exchanges so he's a little more exposed as a fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you want to keep it standing, but if for some reason, Sandro is winning the exchanges in this fight, do you feel your wrestling could be a serious factor?
Pat Curran: Absolutely. If the stand-up's not working, you've got to change the gameplan and try something else. If punches aren't working or combos aren't working, I like to change it up and try other combos or I might start wrestling and try to win by bringing the fight to the ground. Even though he is a Brazilian black belt, I still feel really confident with my ground game and my level of grappling.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think age could be a factor in this fight? Marlon Sandro is 34 years old,over 10 years older than you. That's something hardly anyone ever talks about.
Pat Curran: Yeah, he's definitely got a lot of age on me but there's also a lot of knowledge and experience behind those years. He does have me beat in that aspect but I'm the younger fighter and I feel like I'm gonna be just as strong if not stronger and I'm the younger, up-and-coming fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): A lot's been made about Marlon Sandro's Brazilian jiu-jitsu's black belt but you really don't see that any more because he's almost primarily a stand-up fighter now. Do you feel like maybe he's allowed his grappling to regress a bit and do you think that you're a better ground fighter than he is at this point?
Pat Curran: When you start adding in punching and ground and pound, it definitely changes the way you grapple. Even though he hasn't been showing much of his grappling skills, he still is a black belt and he's still very dangerous. I'm not gonna be overconfident in that aspect of the fight. If it does hit the ground, I'm gonna be very cautious and just look for my submissions trying to play it safe on the ground. I'm definitely not overlooking that at all.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm very interested in who inspires you at your gym. What motivates you? I know you've got a lot of guys who's been training around the sport for quite a while training at Team Curran.
Pat Curran: Definitely my cousin Jeff. He's been a huge inspiration for me. He's the whole reason I started fighting and he got into MMA. He's been in the game for a long time and he's just been behind me the whole time, pushing me in the gym and he's just coaching me and helping me push myself. Not just him, but also Bart Palaszewski. He's been there since I first started training and everybody else at the gym like my coaches Doug Mango and Dave Davis.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much of a lift was it at the gym when the "Big Frog" Jeff Curran was granted his UFC return? I know he'd mentioned that if he didn't get an invite back into the UFC, he was considering retiring.
Pat Curran: Yeah, it definitely was on his mind but there's still a lot of fight left in him. He's not ready to retire yet. I still train with him and he's just as good as he was 10 years ago. He's still strong, he's great on the ground, his stand-up is looking awesome and I definitely think he's gonna surprise a lot of people after signing with the UFC. I'm very happy for him and the gym's very happy for him and we're looking forward to his return.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the other recent additions to your gym was Jens Pulver. I know you probably didn't get a chance to go to New Mexico because you were training for the fight, but was it a bit deal for you guys to go out there and see him get his first knockout in about five years?
Pat Curran: Yeah, I've got to say Jens looked very impressive. I had a chance to watch the fight and it kinda reminded me of the old Jens. He went in there very aggressive, real strong and clean. His hands were up and he ended up knocking Wheeler out in the second round. I've got to say congrats to Jens. He definitely deserved it. He's at the gym every day. He trains his ass off and he's still Jens. I can see him making it back to the UFC even. Maybe after a couple more wins like that he could earn an invite. I've got to say Jens is looking great right now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I don't want you to look ahead past this upcoming fight, but with the recent injury to Patricio Freire, the featherweight title fight with Joe Warren is pushed way back. It's delayed even more because Warren is in the upcoming Bellator bantamweight tournament and they'll probably have to do his fight with Freire after the bantamweight tournament. If you win on Saturday night, you could potentially be on the shelf for a very long time, even longer than when you were waiting for your fight with Eddie Alvarez due to the injury. Is that a big deal for you?
Pat Curran: No, not really. I can always take a filler-fight if I want to but I'm actually looking forward to a little time off. I want to work on my ground game. I want to compete in some grappling tournaments and just rest my body right now. Time off will do me good. I'll still be in the gym training every day, just not as hard and not as hard on my body. I'll be in a situation where I can just work on refining technique, improve my skills and I'm definitely looking forward to a few BJJ tournaments.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Last question I've got for you is, how would you like the fight to play out on Saturday night?
Pat Curran: Obviously, I'd like to get a first round submission or knockout but I'm conditioned to go all three rounds and I just want to put on a dominating performance and prove to myself and everyone that I'm one of the best featherweights in the world.
Pat would like to thank his team, Team Curran, his coaches, Jeff, Doug, Brett and his sponsors with SuckerPunch Entertainment, Clinch Gear, Allmax Nutrition, Soldier Fit and KOBC
So what do you think Maniacs?
Will Curran continue his run of dominance and barrel through Marlon Sandro in the tournament finals? Or will his huge confidence boost come back to bite him?