This Fan Post was promoted to the front page by Nick Thomas.
Bellator 39 rolls out tonight with hot prospect Eddie Alvarez (21-2) putting his lightweight belt up for grabs against the highly resilient Pat Curran (13-3) in what most anticipate to be a thorough trouncing. Will anyone really be surprised if Alvarez, the #6 lightweight in the world, devastates the unremarkable Curran, a contender many feel shouldn't even have advanced past Huerta and Imada?
Betting odds as high as -600 for the Philly-based champ indicate that annihilation is imminent, and -- don't get me wrong -- that's not hard to fathom. But rather than explain how Alvarez might overwhelm Curran like he's done to all but two of his twenty-three opponents, just go watch his highlight reel; let's consider a few stylistic problems Curran might present instead with analysis of how these two stack up in each of the three phases of combat.
1) Free Movement / Striking Phase
Pat Curran does nothing flashy, fundamentally unsound, or foolish. He's the perfect definition of patient, accurate, and judicious on the feet. He mixes the whole enchilada of strikes to keep his adversary guessing, including low, mid, and high kicks interlaced with punches, and is very cerebral in selection and timing. With a stout one-two and a strong left-hook anchoring his sequences, Curran also likes to use a straight front-kick in place of a jab.
He's never been knocked out or lost to strikes, mostly due to his exceptional shelling and head movement, and he has solid defense overall. His wrestling roots are evident in his fairly crouched, closed stance, and despite not being overly active with footwork, he makes up for it with lightning quick reactions, excellent balance, precise counters, and a constantly loaded cannon for a right hand.
Curran is, however, susceptible to low-kicks, as Huerta bounced three or four in a row off his front leg that he didn't even attempt to check. Also having a tendency to drift towards his opponent's power-side, Curran compensates by fanatically sustaining his guard and accepting the risk in order to sight-in his own hefty right in return. This is a gamble that could make or break him against the high-octane Bellator lightweight champ.
Eddie Alvarez has beautifully fused his boxing and wrestling. Always moving forward with unfriendly intent, his attacks are set up nicely with agile footwork, clever angles, and faking level-drops to cleave with nasty uppercuts (gif to the left).
Offensively, Eddie's boxing is tight and ferocious. He's like a bulldog with a clean boxing pedigree that's just been unleashed after having a juicy steak waved inches from his face for days. He always begins by blazing straight punches with his elbows tight, but as time ticks on and the bloodlust takes hold, he starts slinging punches "from his pockets"; still torquing heavy from the waist, but leaving himself a bit more exposed.
It's no coincidence that Alvarez has been dropped on several occasions, and even though he recovers quickly, Curran is the kind of calculating counter-striker that can penetrate his defense. The gif above shows how successful Eddie's combinations can be when they're set up properly. The gif below is fun to watch and reminiscent of Little Mac's "Star Punch Uppercut", but hanging your chin out for that long against a precise, patient, and powerful striker is simply unwise.
Kikuno was also able to connect with a lot of the "distance kicks" that Curran throws, and the best approach to a wild aggressor is tactical and cautious countering. Alvarez could plan to target low kicks, but he drops his guard when throwing them, which reflect the exact split-second opportunities Curran will be poised for. Anticipating the salvo and pouncing with his quick left hook could replicate the same high-paced exchanges where Alvarez got tagged in the past.
The underdog could prove to be feisty for Alvarez to joust with in the stand-up department, especially if the champ comes in reckless.
Of course, the advantage here lies with Alvarez, who wants to make a strong statement, but don't overlook Curran making him pay if he over-commits. There's a trade-off with everything, so the more fuel Alvarez throws onto his fiery aggression, the more chances he'll give Curran to capitalize on.
2) Clinch Phase
Both fighters have a wrestling foundation with a strong base in the clinch. Alvarez is a little more offensive-minded here, preferring to muscle opponents against the cage and lean in with knees and body shots.
Curran is an excellent defensive clincher, with cat-like reflexes that make him slippery and tough to manipulate. His tactical style allows him to maintain good balance and circle off the fence to stay out of trouble, and he loves to unload with both hands when breaking the clinch, often closing the combo with a sharp left.
Neither fighter prefers to stay in this position for any amount of time, and Alvarez might be a bit stronger and more confident with his wrestling, but Curran is more submission-oriented and should be able to fend him off fairly well with guillotine attempts and underhooks.
I expect most clinch interactions to be brief struggles or stalemates, but the right timing and circumstance could result in a takedown for either. Curran's a resistant clincher, and being slightly taller with wily BJJ skills, may even try to surprise Eddie with a single or double-leg of his own. Eddie's an active striker during the tie-up, but Curran is crafty at breaking free and stinging with punches.
3) Grappling Phase
It could get real interesting if we see a ground battle between these two.
Alvarez has a mean top-game that's newly reinforced with his growing BJJ knowledge. Constantly scrambling to pass guard while streaming stiff ground-and-pound, he's now hunting for Americanas, head and arm triangles, and other catches that are conducive from the top position.
In the grand scheme of things, Curran is the more cunning and multi-faceted grappler. He's comfortable playing guard and has methodical defense, adequate sweeps, and a keen ability to create space and scurry back to his feet. Considering the way Alvarez was incrementally passed and mounted by Kawajiri, I'd be curious to see how he's improved from his back if Curran could surprise him by hitting a shot or a sweep.
I realize the chances of that playing out are slim, and that Kawajiri has an unparalleled top-game at 155 -- but based on what we've seen, Curran might be able to wreak havoc if he can put Eddie on his back, or at least win the round.
Like in every other aspect of this match-up, it's tough to weigh Eddie's raw strength and aggression against Curran's heavily fortified arsenal. Despite the challenger having a deeply layered ground game, the explosive quickness of Alvarez gives him the better shot at landing a takedown and bombing from the top.
Advantage: Alvarez (slight)
Relentless boxing and a creative killer-instinct should propel Eddie Alvarez to blitz Curran or carry him to a commanding decision, but the formula of a heavy favorite with "something to prove" versus a talented underdog with "nothing to lose" can often yield unforeseen actions and outcomes.
Alvarez has a clear edge, but one that could be equalized by Curran's smart strategy, his impervious defense, and a meticulous counter-striking game ... especially if Alvarez comes in overconfident or over-aggressive.
Prediction: Alvarez by decision (but don't sleep on Curran)
Visuals courtesy of my gif-wingman "Caposa from the UG"