Young. Midwestern. Humble. Underdog. Ready.
Those are just five words that describe Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight Pat Curran. After this Saturday's main event showdown with their highly-regarded titleholder Eddie Alvarez, Curran wants to add one more description: champion.
"This will be one of the hardest challenges of Eddie's career," Curran said.
Opportunity Presents Itself
At just 23 years old, Curran (12-3) will get his first taste of a major championship fight against a world-class opponent—not too shabby considering he was simply an injury replacement in the 155-pound tournament Bellator held last spring.
"My agent got ahold of (Bellator) and said he had a 145-pounder that would fit into that lightweight spot and they ended up giving it to me," Curran explained. "So, I was moving up a weight class and filling in for somebody. Nobody expected me to do this well in the tournament."
Curran did just fine in the opening round, knocking out Mike Ricci in three minutes (seen at right). Less than one month later, he was in the semifinals against former UFC veteran and tournament favorite Roger Huerta.
He did just fine there as well, downing Huerta by unanimous decision to move into the June finals against Toby Imada, he of the 2009 World MMA Awards Submission Of The Year and 27-14 record.
But Curran did it again, defeating Imada by split decision to earn a title shot against Alvarez. Sure, he was going to be the underdog again but so far, that had been working out just handsomely.
The Part Where Our Hero Gets Hurt, But in a Positive Way
The date for his dance with Alvarez was set for October, but in the late summer, Curran tore the labrum in his right shoulder and was forced out of the match. Huerta—the same guy Curran had beaten—got a non-title shot instead, decimated in the process.
But while Curran could have been bummed out, he and his body instead took the situation as a major positive.
"It was pretty hard. It's the longest layoff I've had since we started training. But to get prepared for a fighter like Eddie, we needed to work a lot on my game, make some improvements and let my body rest from the tournament. It wasn't a bad thing and almost was like a blessing in disguise."
While they may not be a household name like the UFC, Bellator and their short-season tournament format is as grueling on its fighters as anything seen in the Octagon. Even for an active fighter like Curran (five fights in '08, six fights in '09), three fights in two months' time can be challenging.
"I like staying active and competing, so the tournament wasn't really a problem but it was rough," Curran said. "You're in a constant training camp and training your ass off every day. It puts a lot of wear and tear on your body."
The Other E.A. Sports
Now, Curran has one obstacle left in front of him to complete the unexpected journey he started almost one year ago. That obstacle has a name, a reputation, a six-fight winning streak and a nice shiny belt to show for it: 21-2 Eddie Alvarez
Not surprisingly, all that doesn't matter to the Curran Martial Arts Academy product.
"I'm the underdog again, just like I was the whole tournament. I'd rather be the underdog, because I'm going to shock everyone when I beat him," Curran said. "Everyone is expecting Eddie to beat me. If I go in there and give it my best, it's going to be a win-win situation for me. I'm going to look good no matter what."
Curran feels he's peaking in his young career at the right moment now that he's training full-time with his cousin and 12-year veteran Jeff Curran. With no TV competition this Saturday, a lot of eyes will be on him for the first time as he main events in front of a packed crowd at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun on MTV2.
"They're going to remember me after this fight. I put on an exciting show and it's going to be a war between me and Eddie," he explained. "I'm part of a new generation of fighters coming up. I'm young, I can take a hit and I'm not going to give up."
Like he said, a win-win situation.
Josh Nason is a New England-based freelance MMA journalist that contributes to FIGHT! Magazine and WrestlingObserver.com. He frequently does radio/podcast appearances and asks for your "like" for ESPN Boston to cover MMA. Follow him on Twitter and check out his coverage of Bellator 39 for BleacherReport.com/MMA.
Note: all quotes are original to this story. Don't borrow without crediting. Thanks.