Daniel Straus has been here before.
Just one year ago, the Team Vision fighter stood in this exact same place against an equally talented Brazilian striker/grappler in the Bellator season four featherweight tournament finals.
Last time, he came up short, losing a decision to Patricio Freire, but he's learned his lesson.
He won't give up on his pressure-based attack this time around. He believes in himself, and is honest enough with himself to admit that he's had to scratch and claw his way to the finals again rather than having coasted there.
Straus will be battling Brazilian bomber Marlon Sandro in the main event of Bellator 68 tomorrow night (May 11, 2012) from Atlantic City, New Jersey and he spoke with me during a guest appearance on Bloody Elbow Radio about his emotions heading into this fight, what he'd like to do different this time around in the finals and how this fight could be an inflection point in his life.
Check it out:
Matt Bishop: Daniel, we're just a few days away from your chance to earn a shot at the Bellator featherweight title. What's going through your mind in preparation for this?
Daniel Straus: I just really want to prove to myself. I want to make sure that I go out there and fight my fight, not really worry about anything and just show the world that I can be a great fighter. Be on top tier. I've had a great training camp. I feel great. I just really want to go out there and show the world what I can do.
Matt Bishop: Do you feel like right now you have more to prove to yourself or more to prove to your friends, fans and people that follow you?
Daniel Straus: It's always myself. I don't want to say it in a bad way but it's not about proving stuff to fans or all that. More to me, it's about myself, what I can push my own limits to. I know what I can and can't do. When I challenge myself to something, then that's what I go after. I feel it's always what I have envisioned for myself.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You posted a really interesting quote on twitter a few weeks ago: In everyone's life, there's a moment like no other. A moment where you decide who you are and who you want to me. Do you feel like this is that moment for you?
Daniel Straus: Umm, it's one of them. I feel like there's many of those moments. I don't want to just be a tournament champion. I don't want to just be a guy that made it to the finals. I don't want to be just a decent fighter. I want to be a successful MMA fighter. I want to be a number one guy in a big organization and these are the moments that I have to capitalize. Walking into the cage, stuff like that that I think about, I think about how hard I trained, how much time I put into this. I think too much sometimes, but it helps me a lot. It never drags me down or holds me back. That's what I use.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In your last fight, you just had so many emotions. You were wearing your heart on your sleeve more than in any time I've ever seen you perform. What's your emotion level like coming into this fight? Have you toned it down a bit? What are you feeling?
Daniel Straus: You know, actually it's the same. There's still a lot of things that's been going on, especially these last couple weeks in my life. I'm not one to air my life out on twitter and stuff like that but it's been real rough. We as a team are still dealing with Chris [Smith's] loss. It'll go away for a bit but then I'll start thinking about it and getting emotional about it. All that emotion is still there. It wasn't gonna go away in a day or a month. It might be a year before all this clears up. In my heart and in my mind, I know that this is what made me who I am. I've had adversity before I fight and switched it to a positive. Sometimes that's what pushes me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So you feed off of those emotions at times?
Daniel Straus: Yes sometimes. Sometimes I need it and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I have it and sometimes I won't. That's a Dr. Seuss quote there for you. It makes me more who I am. I feed off of the things I need to feed off of and the other things I don't, I just push it aside.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): More talking about this fight, what do you want to do differently for this time in the finals compared to the last time you were in the finals against Patricio Freire? Are you seeing any parallels, anything you'd like to change?
Daniel Straus: The only thing I want to do different is win. I want to win. I want to go out there and I want to fight. I want to fight hard. I want to fight smart. I don't want to play into his game and get caught up in anything. I can't hold myself back. I have to let everything go and that's what I tend to do. I'm not scared of this guy. I'm not worried about him. He's got huge punching power and I don't know if you would call him a legend in the game but he's definitely known in the game. I don't want to let that bother me. On Friday man, it's about me. It's about me and the things that I've done to get here. I'm gonna use that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you notice a lot of similarities between Marlon Sandro and Patricio Pitbull?
Daniel Straus: Yeah, they're Brazilian. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How would you assess your performance in this tournament thus far?
Daniel Straus: . I haven't don't anything spectacular. I feel like I could have done a lot better. I'm happy for the things I've done. I'm happy for the wins over Jeremy Spoon and Mike Corey. Would they get on anybody's highlight reel? Probably not, but am I happy for those wins? Definitely. I think I could have stepped it up a lot. I think there were some holes, some openings I could have took that I didn't so that's a problem here in my book. You know, overall, I've done alright but I don't want to toot my own horn and say, "I'm doing awesome!" because that's not the case. The case is I'm doing just enough to win and I've got two more.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're a guy that loves to fight often. You may have felt a bit rusty that first fight back, but now that you've had two fights in two months and you're going for your third fight in three months, do you feel like you're getting into a groove again?
Daniel Straus: Yes, definitely. Anybody who looks at my record knows that I've always been a guy that loves to fight often. Once you come and don't find fight for so long and then you have to get back into the cage, you're still getting back into it. Even that second fight, you're still getting back into it. Now that I've had that big fight against Corey, I feel like, "Okay, now I know how to do it. Now I can go in there and not be scared to pull the trigger, not worry about sticking to the gameplan. Now I can just go with the flow and start fighting right off the bat."
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Are you prepared to let it all hang out against Sandro knowing you won't have another fight for a while and you don't have to save yourself for anything?
Daniel Straus: For the most part yeah. I'm ready to let it go. Even if I look like a fool out there just swinging away, I'm ready to let it rip. I don't have anything to lose. I just have to prove to myself that I can win. Whatever it takes, that's what I'm going to do. I want to get in there and just get in his face and keep his confidence down, keep backing him up, keep my confidence high and I just want to win this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there any difference being allowed to use elbows in the finals? How big of a part of your game is that?
Daniel Straus: A little, but not much. It's kind of half and half. Sometimes I use them and sometimes I don't. I also have to realize that now my opponent can use elbows. I don't want to get caught with an elbow either. I don't think it's gonna be that much of a difference but I know that if it goes to the ground and I'm on top of him, somebody's getting elbows and it's not gonna be me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm sure you've seen Sandros walkouts lately. If he comes out with that gladiator helmet again for his walkout and you're next, how about this. This is a random idea I had earlier in the day. You dress up like Julius Cesar with the whole leaf circlet thing and you walk out and give a big "thumbs down" right before the fight. How good would that be?
Daniel Straus: Yeah, that would be awesome. I need to find some wardrobe or something to come out into the cage or something.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you picture success in this upcoming fight against Marlon Sandro. What do you see?
Daniel Straus: I see two hands raise. I see both my hands raised. I see my team being happy and I see my coaching staff being happy. As far as myself, I see myself breaking out. I see things in my life that I'm overcoming. There's trials and tribulations that I've been through and to get so far in my life and do what I'm doing and to win this tournament and whatnot, it would be an honor. Just an honor.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter @Daniel Straus.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Do you feel Straus has what it takes to knock off Marlon Sandro in the finals? Is he Bellator featherweight champion material?