Curran is finally healthy, and
Bellator’s featherweight champion has not let his good fortune
go to waste. Curran will defend his title for the second time this
year when he squares off with Shahbulat
Shamhalaev in tonight’s Bellator
95 main event.
The champion’s recent period of activity follows a 2012 in which
Curran fought just once due to a broken orbital bone sustained in
training. As a result, Curran’s first title defense came more than
10 months after winning the title from Joe Warren.
Despite the long layoff, the champion appeared as sharp as ever
Freire, using a tight boxing attack to outpoint Freire in
Bellator’s eighth season premiere on Jan. 17.
The victory over “Pitbull” did not come easily, as Curran elected
to stand and bang with the dangerous Brazilian for 25 minutes en
route to a split-decision win.
“I really wanted to prove to myself that my striking and boxing
were up to par. I was really pushing to make that statement, and I
proved that my striking is some of the best,” Curran told
Sherdog.com of his first title defense. “I trust my striking, and I
trust my cardio, but I think I maybe need to mix it up a little bit
more instead of turning it into just a straight boxing or striking
match. This is MMA, so I think I need to go for some takedowns and
mix things up a little more.”
Curran emerged from the fight virtually injury free, though the
25-year-old did acquire a serious knot on the top of his foot after
having a body kick blocked by Freire’s elbow. After a week and a
half on the shelf, however, the pain dissipated, and the
featherweight decided to defend his belt again at the Season 8
finale from Revel in Atlantic City, N.J.
Initially booked to face former foe and Season 6 tournament winner
Straus at tonight’s event, Curran was thrown a curveball five
weeks ago when he learned Straus had broken his hand, leaving
Season 7 winner Shamhalaev as the logical replacement.
“I’m a complete fighter, and I’m good in every aspect of the sport.
Five weeks is plenty of time to switch opponents and mindsets and
come up with a different game plan,” said Curran. “They are two
very different fighters. Straus is a wrestler and wants to grind
you out on the ground. Shahbulat is definitely a striker, and he
wants that one-punch knockout. I have a different mindset coming
into this fight, but it was an easy switch, and we felt like we had
plenty of time to make that change.”
Curran diligently prepared for the dangerous Dagestani during his
remaining five weeks of camp, studying his opponent’s strengths and
weaknesses by reviewing Shamhalaev’s previous performances.
“Since I’ve become champion, I’ve been able to watch and review all
of these fighters coming up in the tournament, and that’s a big
part of my game plan,” said Curran. “I think that’s a smart
decision for fighters to make. If you get a chance, definitely
review and study your opponent to know what you’re getting into.
But still, it’s fight. Anything can happen, and things can change
in a second. You definitely have to be prepared for that.”
Perhaps no fighter under the Bellator banner more aptly personifies
that statement than Shamhalaev, who is more than capable of
changing a fight’s entire complexion with a single strike, as he
did in his tournament finishes of Cody
Richman and Rad
Martinez. Though Curran believes he will emerge victorious
against the hard-hitting Team Bombsquad rep, the champion is
nevertheless cognizant of Shamhalaev’s punching power.
“Watching [Shamhalaev’s] fight with Rad, [I noticed] he has a very
powerful overhand right, and he has the killer instinct,” said
Curran. “I’m a very clean, technical counter puncher, and I’ve
really been working on my boxing. Once I’m on the inside, I’m going
to have to throw my combinations and keep my hands high and move
away, especially away from his power side. I have to stay composed,
because I know he’s going to wing some really hard shots at me. If
he does clip me, I’m going to have to be prepared for it, because I
know he’s going to jump all over me and try to finish me.”