Pat Curran vs. Daniel Straus -- Bellator Featherweight Championship
Pat Curran (19-4) is the Bellator champ and undefeated in his six turns since dropping down to featherweight. Curran made his promotional debut as a late replacement in Bellator's Season 2 Lightweight Tournament, and that's precisely when his long list of surprises occurred. Then a virtual unknown, Curran flattened TUF alum Mike Ricci by 1st-round KO in the quarterfinals for starters, then attracted serious attention for his momentous upset over hot Bellator acquisition and former UFC lightweight contender Roger Huerta. Curran won the Lightweight Tournament with a hard-fought split-decision over Toby Imada, who'd advanced to the finals by way of an inverted triangle over current UFC'er Jorge Masvidal that earned him "Submission of the Year" honors at the World MMA Awards.
The downside to Curran's title bid against Eddie Alvarez was that he fought excessively complacent and ultimately lost the contest; the upside was that most expected that Curran would be demolished, but Alvarez was unable to impose his wrestling or land any memorable blows in the fairly commanding decision win.
Then, Curran dropped to featherweight and everything changed. Taking the criticism surrounding the Alvarez bout to heart, the methodical backpedaling was replaced by an electric string of rollicking stoppages and a noticeable increase in aggression and offensive output. Demonstrating his submission efficacy and affinity for irony, Curran tapped out Luis Palomino, a Peruvian, with a slick Peruvian necktie. Though he topped the venerable Ronnie Mann by decision, Curran not only spiced up his repertoire with a few flying knees, but broke out in a full-on sprint preceding their release.
Two of Bellator's most vicious stoppages would follow, as Curran won the Featherweight Tournament by crumpling Nova Uniao's Marlon Sandro with a well-timed head kick in the 2nd round, then snared the promotion's championship by battering D1 All-American wrestler Joe Warren with a ruthless, blistering and painfully prolonged display of pure violence on the feet. As champion, Curran has twice defended his title against Patricio Freire (split decision) and Shahbulat Shamhalaev (1st-round submission).
Daniel Straus (21-4) started out as a lightweight as well and has met Curran before at that weight, suffering a 2nd-round TKO loss at XFO 29 in 2009. That loss -- Straus' third at the time -- triggered an impressive 18-fight streak that resulted in 17 wins with the aforementioned Freire standing as the only flaw. Beefing up that sequence even more is the fact that Straus fought a jaw-dropping 17 times in the span of two years. Straus was a standout wrestler in high school but was kicked out of school during his senior year; he'd defeated the eventual state champion three times before.
In the cage, Straus has evolved noticeably over the last few years, mainly in his striking. However, not only is he a quick and explosive boxer, but Straus has been able to synchronize his wrestling and striking beautifully. His takedowns are never telegraphed and always set up well with his hands, and his striking has improved to the point that many of his wins involved no wrestling at all.
Straus is a physical specimen and exceptionally agile and athletic. His punches are uncorked straight, long and with significant zing. He's adept at launching a combination and then jumping on his opponent while they're busy defending the barrage in order to close distance and work his wrestling game. And that approach is probably Straus' best shot at dethroning Curran: relying on his speed and quickness to dupe Curran into engaging in a a fire-fight, then changing levels to attack his hips with takedowns or controlling him in the clinch.
This set of strengths puts extra emphasis on Curran's footwork and motion. The champ will want to remain free of contact and moving of his own accord in open space, where his crafty and technical striking usually takes over. Curran has still been somewhat prone to lapses in activity, such as when he was willing to stand in the pocket and trade hands with "Pitbull." Curran will not be able to afford such lulls against Straus, who will put him on his back if he stays stationary and/or flat-footed.
Straus is the most diverse and dominant wrestler Curran has faced as a featherweight. While Joe Warren boasts more prestigious credentials, his Greco-Roman background resulted in mostly upper body tie-ups, and Warren was a tad undersized for the weight class and Curran is big for the division. Straus will bring the element of rapid and dramatic level changes in harmony with the threat of his boxing, so Curran will have his hands full here. I'm leaning toward Curran for his momentum, being one of the best three-dimensional fighters in the game and the subtle craftiness and technique of his grappling and striking. To be oddly specific, I see Curran catching something from the front headlock if Straus over-employs his wrestling and clinch game.
My Prediction: Pat Curran by submission.