In a mixed martial arts (MMA) title fight, the fifth and final round could be a formality or the deciding factor that will ultimately decide the outcome. Rarely -- if ever -- do you see a fighter finish his opponent that late in the fight, especially if that is what's needed to earn the victory.
As we know, nothing is certain in this sport when it comes to decisions, but for all intents and purposes at Bellator 112 last week at The Horseshoe in Hammond, Ind., Pat Curran was once again headed to the wrong side of the judge's scorecards in his Featherweight title rematch with Daniel Straus.
Even though he delivered a much better performance than the disappointing one he turned in at Bellator 106, Curran more than likely needed to finish Straus if he wanted his 145-pound title back.
And that's just what he did.
After Straus gave up his back in a scramble, Curran would eventually secure both hooks and after several attempts, lock up the rear-naked choke victory with only 16 seconds left.
He had expended all his energy, and when the moment of winning back the title arrived it was all encompassing.
"Too many emotions," the new featherweight champion said, explaining his post-fight feelings as a guest on Darce Side Radio. "Too many thoughts. Especially going five rounds and finishing that choke like that with 16 seconds left. I was physically drained. I was pretty exhausted right after that moment. All that hard work, everything paid off.
"It's the best feeling in the world. It really doesn't get any better than that, especially after a fight like that. We went hard for five rounds and than finishing strong at the end with a rear-naked choke, it really doesn't have a better ending than that. You really couldn't write it any better than that."
Now a two-time Bellator Featherweight champion, Curran has been known to sometimes be a slow starter in his fights. He said the way he thinks in fights is that he is "always down," and that was the mindset heading into the last round with Straus at Bellator 112.
"I really wasn't sure," he explained. "I knew it was a close fight and it was back-and-forth. No matter what fight I'm in I just feel like I'm not doing enough, or I should be doing more. I knew it was close. My corner was telling it was close and that we need it push it in the fifth and make something happen."
After Straus had given up his back and Curran had sunk in both hooks, he said he wa,s "going to start raining punches down on him," but that thought passed when Straus made his next move.
"Then all of a sudden he crawls to the fence and as he was crawling to the fence, he left his head open so I slipped in the rear-naked choke, but I wasn't quite under his chin yet," Curran explains the closing moments of the round in detail.
"I was patient, I took my time. I looked up at my corner to my cousin Jeff. I made eye contact with him. He told he I had about 45 seconds left or so. I acknowledged that and I just realized either I let go and finish strong with punches, or start squeezing for the rear-naked and see if I could get it. Once I started squeezing it started slowly slipping under his chin. He started defending. I re-adjusted a couple of times and then eventually got under his chin and it was only a matter of time until he was going to go out and he tapped with 16 seconds left."
Dealing with the inherent pressure that comes with a title fight, on top of trying to decide-while in a favorable position over an opponent-whether or not to attempt or abandon a submission attempt is something that separates the men from the boys in this particular line of work.
Curran could've started throwing down punches once he secured his position over Straus, but he chose what would eventually lead to his victory. He made the correct decision with only a little more than one minute in the final round and remained calm in doing so.
"That's what you have to do," he explained. "As a fighter at the elite level, you have to stay calm and stay focused. I knew I had enough time. I looked at my corner and they told me how much time I had left and that's where I was trying to make the decision to either let go and start raining down punches and finish strong like that, or to keep the choke and really start squeezing and give it everything I had. It came down to how much time I had and I made that decision at that point.
"I wasn't under his chin so I knew I had to fight for it and really squeeze and give it everything I had and little by little it sunk in deeper and deeper. Every time he pulled by hand down I would reposition my grip and reposition my body just a little bit and go in a little bit deeper. It took a little bit to get the choke in, but once it was under his chin it was just a matter of time. It was a slow choke and eventually it cut off his air."
Even though it has only been one fight between losing the Featherweight title and winning it back, Curran has been through quite a lot. Last time he spoke with MMAmania.com, he admitted he wasn't himself and that he was "burnt out" (story here). He was suffering from anxiety and depression for quite some time.
And he didn't look for help until after he lost the title at Bellator 106.
"I've had them for a long time," Curran revealed. "If left untreated, it builds up and it just gets worse and worse. After the fight with Straus I wanted to seek help, but that just really kind of kicked me in the ass a little bit and told me I need help now and I need to get my head on straight. I looked over to my cousin Jeff and asked for his help. He told me he was there for me 100 percent. I talked to my manager Brian and he really was there for me 100 percent as well. Both of them together kind of led me in the right direction. I had a good support group behind me with my coaches, my family and my friends and everybody behind me really made a difference and really helped me when I was at a low part of my life. I went and saw a sports psychologist and got my head back on straight and I improved. It showed in my last fight."
Curran admitted in the November clash with Straus he "wasn't there mentally" and wasn't sure he "wanted to keep fighting." He explained the difference from the loss to last week's thrilling victory.
"I had a lot of bad thoughts leading into that fight and that shouldn't be an issue," the champion said, looking back on the title-losing fight. "Leading into a fight you have to be mentally ready to win. You are 100 percent knowing you are going to win. You're confident. You are in kill mode. You are ready to go. I wasn't in that mode the second time around. The third fight I was 100 percent a different guy. I had that kill mode. I was ready to just go in there and kill Straus. I was just a monster, a beast in the gym and just completely in a different mental mindset leading into this fight, compared to my other fight."
Now that he has experienced losing the belt and winning it back, it has made the 26-year-old fighter want to hold onto it tighter than ever.
"Losing the title after all that hard work that you put into the gym and losing everything in just a matter of one fight is an eye opener," he explained. "Like holy shit, this is ... my life has just changed. This is not what I want. I know I'm a better fighter than this. Now that I lost it and got it back, I know what it's like to lose everything and I'm not going to go through that again. I can't go through that again. I'm 100 percent more determined, more focused, more motivated than ever and I'm going to keep improving as a fighter and keep getting better and you are just going to keep seeing a better Pat Curran every time I get in the cage."
He and Straus have already met three times in the cage, and Curran expects to meet the now former champion a fourth time. Before that can happen Curran will face Patricio "Pitbull" Freire in a rematch of their fight from Bellator 85 that Curran won via split decision.
The champion is extremely confident he will have his hand raised once again when the two square off.
"I know I'm going to beat the shit out of Pitbull, so I know for a fact I'm going to see Straus for a fourth time," Curran boldly stated. "I'm not worried about 'Pitbull.' I know he's a dangerous fighter, but I beat him before and I'm going to beat him even worse this time around. I'm going to completely outclass him this time and I'm a dangerous fighter and a completely different fighter this time around and he is going to see that, you guys are going to see that. By the end of it, he is going to wish he never stepped in the cage with me."
Freire had plenty to say and was none too pleased when Curran was awarded the rematch with Straus. He was unhappy that he had to go through another tournament after losing the title fight to Curran. The champ, who is normally calm and reserved in interviews, had an edge to his tone when talking about Freire. He made it quite evident he does not like the Brazilian.
Curran said he "deserved" the rematch and "proved" he is a champion, but that "Pitbull" should do his talking in the cage.
"There is a reason Bellator gave me the rematch," he stated. "They saw potential in me. 'Pitbull' is a crybaby. All he wants to do is go out there and talk shit and feel like he doesn't get anything handed to him. That's just who he is. It is what it is. It doesn't bother me too much. He can say whatever he wants, but at the end me and him are fighting again. If he wants to back up everything he is saying, he can do it in the cage. I'm ready to go in there and completely destroy him whenever we get in the cage."