March 29, 2009

by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
It’s been nearly 10 months since Jeff Curran last fought. For some fighters, that would be a normal period of time between fights. For Curran it seemed like an eternity. The “Big Frog” is eager to get back on track since losing featherweight bouts to Urijah Faber and Mike Brown. This time the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt looks to make an impact with a move down to the bantamweight division.

“I had a boxing offer for a fight at 135 and it just so happened we were talking about moving down to that weight class, so I figured I would test the waters with the weight cut; see how I liked being down at that weight before I made it official for Dec. 3. I ended up fighting and breaking my hand. Immediately after the fight, I knew I had a broken hand, but I went and saw a specialist and he told me that I didn’t. I said ‘well if it’s not broke, I’m going to train on it.’ Spent a few weeks training, I went back and said, ‘I can’t move my hand,’ and he said it was broken in three spots.

“I had to pull from the Dec. 3 card and it was a huge setback. If I would have just taken that extra five weeks to heal, I would have had plenty of time to prepare. Come April 5, it’s going to be over 10 months that I’ve been sitting. I decided to move down a weight class for a number of reasons. It’s my debut at 135 and I’m hoping for it to be everything I expect out of it and more.”

Jeff Curran is one of the most experienced fighters in MMA today. He’s been fighting since 1998 and amassed 40 fights under his belt. He kept to a busy schedule for most of his career. Since returning to the WEC, he has not been able to duplicate the same level of activity as he would like.

“I’m used to fighting every other month at least and that’s been the past decade of my life. For the most part I was fighting six times a year. When the WEC came about, Monte Cox (his manager) said, ‘Jeff you’re not going to be as active. They don’t have as many shows and they don’t have as many match-ups for you right off the bat. It’ll get better.’

“I’m getting a little older, I want to slow down; I want to take quality over quantity. Next thing you know, I’m calling Monte, I’m calling Joe Silva; I’m begging everybody ‘come on I want to stay busy.’ That was a hard adjustment for me and it still is. As a fighter, you want to stay active. Thankfully I’ve got so much going on that I respect the time after preparing for a fight to focus on other endeavors.”

A move down to 135 pounds was a strategic decision for Curran. He needed a change of pace and wanted to test the waters in a new division.

“I felt like it was going to be a really long road back to another title shot. I didn’t know if I was mentally ready for it,” revealed the Illinois resident. “I’m going to put myself with a whole new class of fighters that I’ve never crossed paths with or even thought about fighting because they were in a different weight class. It’s a way of starting completely fresh and feeling like it’s a real true chance of reinventing myself.

“I never moved down in weight thinking, ‘oh this is going to be easier for me.’ It’s not like that. I think that the lighter you get, the faster and more technical guys get. I’m not a big guy. I’m not going to go to 135 and be dominating all the people. Overall, it was the mindset that I needed to start fresh.”

The fresh start is good for Curran in many ways. Not only did his pas couple of fights not go the way he wanted, there have been some other untimely events occurring around him outside of the cage as well.

Fans were shocked with the untimely death of Tapout co-founder Charles Lewis. The man better known as “Mask” lost his life after a violent car accident in Newport Beach earlier this month. The MMA community lost a friend and a pioneer with his passing.

“We’ve been friends for the past decade. He’s always been there for me and I always try to represent when I can,” said Curran. “We had a pretty close relationship, closer than most people in business, I guess you can say. He was one of a kind.

“It sucks man. This past year sucked; so many crazy things happening. Justin Eilers was a friend of mine. I wasn’t friends with Evan Tanner, but I definitely looked up to him and respected him. It’s been a sad year overall.”

All the more reason that Curran has been training so hard for his upcoming fight. He has been working extensively on his wrestling while sharpening his striking and Jiu-Jitsu. In preparation for his bantamweight debut, he enlisted the help of American Top Team and spent a week with the Florida-based crew.

“It really is something I’m excited about. This is kind of my trial run. I don’t know if it’s the best time to do it. I definitely don’t think I can go wrong going out to ATT and getting a good week of Jiu-Jitsu with some high quality guys,” commented Curran before his visit. “I’m going there and hopefully it’ll be the start of a new family, a new friendship, and a new alliance for some of my fighters. We’ll see what happens.”

Since announcing his move to bantamweight, Curran made it well known that his main goal was to challenge Miguel Torres for the 135-pound title.

“I know that I match well with Miguel Torres. He definitely has a formula to beat me, the potential to beat me. He doesn’t have anything that stands out that makes him so much better than me that I don’t have a chance.

“Miguel and I have competitive blood through our veins and he’s got something I want. The closer that this fight becomes a reality… it’s not about like or dislike. We both are competitive. I think the curiosity is lurking in us both to see who really wins that fight. We’ve been trying to set it up for years. We have respect for each other. After the fight and leading up to the fight, we’re still friends and acquaintances.”

In what could be a foreshadowing of a future match-up with Torres, Curran shares the spotlight with his fellow hometown favorite at WEC 40. Torres will defend his bantamweight title in the main event against Top 10 ranked Takeya Mizugaki, while Curran takes on Joseph Benavidez. A win for would put Curran one step closer to a shot at the champ.

“If he was some guy squeaking by against nobodies, there would be no desire to fight him just to have a belt. I’ve got a handful of belts from beating some pretty tough guys. Those fights mean something to me because of where and when they were. It would not mean anything to me to be labeled as a world champ if I’m fighting some amateur ranked guy. It’s definitely motivation to fight a guy like Miguel, who’s kicking everyone’s ass and has all the tools to beat anyone in the division.”

On April 5, Curran will face a tough prospect in Benavidez. The Urijah Faber protégé successfully made his WEC debut back in December of last year and has yet to taste defeat in his young career. He poses a formidable threat to all fighters in his weight division and is the type of opponent that Curran personally requested for his 135-pound debut.

“Joseph is undefeated; he’s got nine good wins. He’s got nothing to lose fighting me. I get to fight this young prospect who is undefeated that’s definitely a contender in the bantamweight division. It makes for a great match-up.”

A consummate athlete, Jeff Curran has dedicated his life to mixed martial arts. He has worked hard to be where he is today and continues to move towards his ultimate goal of winning WEC gold. Win or lose, the “Big Frog” will always be involved in this sport.

“I’m a sponge, I love learning. I’m in mixed martial arts because I love it. I’m not in it for money; I’m not in it for fame. I got into it because I like it and because I had a passion for it. If the money stopped and the big show died, I’d still fight.”