Ten months have passed since Pat Curran last stepped into Bellator Fighting Championships’ circular cage, but the featherweight champ says he is nevertheless in top shape and ready to defend his title against Patricio “Pitbull” Freire at Thursday’s Bellator 85.

“You hear about ring rust, but I really don’t think it’s going to affect me,” Curran said during a recent media conference call. “I don’t think I took that much time off. I was in a training camp, and I was getting a lot of training and sparring in and developing as a fighter. If anything, I think the time off has helped me prepare for Pitbull and got me ready.”

Curran rides a four-fight winning streak into his inaugural title defense at UCI Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif. The 25-year-old captured his title from Joe Warren last March and was initially expected to defend his belt against Freire at Bellator 73 in August before suffering a broken orbital bone in training. His injury now fully healed, Curran has taken extra safety measures to protect against a second such occurrence.

“I got a bigger headgear so I wouldn’t feel the full impact of the punches,” said Curran. “My training camp has been great. I have no injuries. My fractured orbital is completely healed, and I have no pain at all.”

Curran made his Bellator debut in 2010 as a lightweight, winning the Season 2 tournament before faltering against Eddie Alvarez in his world title shot. Soon after, Curran made the cut to featherweight, capturing the 2012 Summer Series tournament crown with a devastating knockout of Marlon Sandro before lifting the title from Warren in another brutal finish.

“When I started out, I was just a wrestler who would take you down and grind you out, but I really didn’t want to be that type of fighter,” said Curran. “I knew I needed to develop my hands and become a striker. Little by little, I developed that and became more confident in the cage, and that’s where I’m at now. I love striking. I love everything about it. I love learning new moves, and I’m really excited to showcase my skills.”

In Freire, Curran faces a hard-hitting Brazilian who nearly conquered the Season 2 featherweight bracket before relinquishing a controversial split decision defeat to Warren in the finals. Pitbull rebounded with three victories in the Season 4 tourney, only to see his guaranteed title shot postponed by injuries. Finally healthy, Freire will now take a title shot nearly two years in the making.

“He’s a very explosive fighter. When he sees an opening, he explodes and goes for the kill, but you saw with the Joe Warren fight how he blew his load and gassed out,” said Curran of his opponent. “He’s just very powerful and explosive. With almost two years off, it’s really hard to know how his style has changed or what to expect in the fight, but you’ve really got to watch out for his power.”

Regarded by many as the world’s second-best featherweight behind UFC king Jose Aldo, Curran has defeated everyone he has faced in the Bellator cage, save for the highly-regarded Alvarez. However, in spite of all he has accomplished thus far, Curran says he is still eager to prove himself and exceed his own high expectations.

“My hunger and drive are still there. I want to be one of the best featherweights in the world and put on the best performances of my life and please the audience,” said Curran. “That’s all I can really ask. That’s my drive -- to keep performing like I have and growing as a fighter and amazing people.”

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