The first time Daniel Straus met Patricio Freire inside the Bellator cage was at Bellator 45 on May 21, 2011. It was the featherweight tournament finals of Season Four and Freire would win by unanimous decision. Now, almost four years later, the two are set to clash once again at Bellator 132 on Friday, January 16, 2015.
But if you are thinking that avenging that Bellator 45 loss is a huge motivating factor for the former Bellator featherweight champion, you would be incorrect, because "Not at all," was the answer he gave when asked about it.
"I made my way through the tournament. He made his way through the tournament. We met in the finals and I lost, but it's never been something that has bugged me," Straus told MMAmania.com. "I've never itched for a rematch, never begged for it or pleaded for it. I learned from that loss and I went on with my career. And with doing so, that has helped me grow."
No fighter is happy with a loss, but Straus wasn't putting a picture of Freire on his mirror like Rocky Balboa did with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, either.
"For me personally, it was ‘It happened and it's part of the sport. Keep moving, keep growing and you will see him again. If he is as good as he thinks he is and I think I am as good as I think I am, we will eventually see each other again.' And now we are going to see each other."
Straus won six straight fights after that loss and reached the pinnacle of his career by defeating Pat Curran at Bellator 106, only to lose the belt in the rematch at Bellator 112. Losing his title by way of submission was difficult, but it wasn't something he was going to dwell on.
"I took the 10 to 15 minutes I needed to sulk in it and then I moved on," he said. "Then I was like ‘fuck that fight.' It doesn't mean anything to me at this point. Because like I said, I'm not worried about what happened already. And that is just how I think.
"Who I've lost to, and even who I've beat, none of that matters to me. I'm just looking toward that next goal, the next fight, that next win. And once I get it to just keep going because, like I said, I really need to learn to grow and not cherish the moment."
Straus, 30, has only tasted defeat five times in 28 career fights and all five times the Ohio native has followed up with a win in his next fight. At Bellator 127 last October, Straus returned to the cage after the title-fight loss to Curran and earned knockout victory over against Justin Wilcox, his first inside the Bellator cage.
When Wilcox came forward aggressively, Straus made him pay with a gorgeous left hook to stop the fight in less than a minute of the opening round.
"It was good to get in there and show what types of skills I do possess," Straus said. "I got the knockout fairly easy and he is not by any means an easy guy to walk through. It was really a blessing to get that knockout. I took a day and enjoyed it, got back to camp, and that's just it, I forgot all about it."
Freire defeated Curran for the Bellator featherweight title in September at Bellator 123, the third fight in a row that the title changed hands. Straus, however, wasn't the least bit surprised about the Brazilian winning the title.
"Not at all," he said. "It's not like he's not a good fighter. He is a very talented fighter. And number two, a guy like that with a chip on his shoulder is capable of doing anything. He came in there motivated and ready to go and he proved it."
Straus has been training the last few years at American Top Team (ATT). Coincidentally, he left Ohio for Florida after he fought Freire last. The two have both evolved as fighters since their last meeting, but as far as fight styles go, Straus says not much has changed about his upcoming opponent.
"It's Patricio man, he has been the same fighter for years," Straus says. "Not saying he hasn't evolved. It works for him. He's a 'move forward and try to mess you' up type of guy. He uses his footwork a lot more now. He is not as flat-footed as he used to be. Which is good for him. I've seen some evolvement from him. I think I've evolved more. If you look at my fights in the past three years compared to his fights, I think everyone would say I've evolved a lot and I look a lot different since then. His game has always been his stand-up game. If you've seen one of his fights, you've seen them all. That is just his fight style."
Heading into his third Bellator featherweight title fight, Straus says he has "gotten a lot better" and continues to make improvements in his game. There is "nothing big" or "nothing new" as far as training goes, he said, but the former champ shed a little insight into his current fight camp and how he has been preparing for Freire.
"I don't have one specific training partner for this camp, but I have people that can mimic him," Straus explained. "I have wrestlers that can wrestle me down. I have stand up guys that can just destroy me quick. I've been working with, I think, all the right people. Left handers, right handers, anything he is going to throw at me I will be ready for."
Straus only fought twice last year and after this title fight against Freire at Bellator 132, he'd "definitely" like to get in the cage a few more times in 2015 and have a busier year than the last one.
"If I could get four to five fights this year I would be thrilled," he said. "If I could get three fights this year I would be thrilled, but I really want to get four to five fights."
His career will soon hit the six-year mark and Straus is in a good place mentally. His two-year-old daughter Makayla and his close friends and supporters are a big reason for that.
"I have all the best people around me," he said. "Good friends and everyone around me is keeping me happy, keeping me focused and wanting the best for me. I'm watching my baby girl grow up, she is getting big. I'm just happy, man."