Spend a little time talking with Pat Curran and you quickly discover one thing - this man is a professional. The 25 year old fighter is coming up on one of the toughest challenges he has faced as he defends his Bellator Featherweight title against Shahbulat Shamhalaev at Bellator 95 this Thursday, April 4. Shamhalaev is a dangerous foe - a nasty Muay Thai striker who has knocked out every opponent Bellator has put in his way. But Curran is taking the challenge in stride:
"We're both strikers, we're both counter-strikers, we both love a good stand-up match, so you're definitely going to see some explosive striking and potentially a highlight knockout."
That's what the champ had to say to Bloody Elbow in the lead up to the Shamhalaev fight. And that's about all you're going to get from Curran on his opponents - no trash talk, no real prediction on the fight, just respect. Like I said - a professional.
At one time, this quiet demeanor was also reflected in the ring. Curran had an impressive rise through the ranks of the Bellator Lightweight division in 2010, but his more technical, conservative style wasn't always winning fans - or fights. Now, things are very different. Gone is the cautious Lightweight that was defeated by Eddie Alvarez in 2011, replaced by a still technical, but now also highly aggressive Featherweight. And Curran knows exactly where that change came from:
"That [change] had a lot to do with the loss to Eddie Alvarez. I felt I held back way too much, and moving back to 145 felt like a new start. That was our original plan, to go back down to 145, and I just feel more comfortable being at that weight class and being able to let my hands and feet and all my striking go and not really have to worry about it. I didn't want to hold back and miss that opportunity. I just wanted to go out there and prove to myself that I can do this."
Since making that change, Curran has been on a roll, going 5-0, winning the Bellator Featherweight title, scoring multiple highlight reel finishes, and becoming one of the world's top fighters at 145 pounds (he's currently ranked #5 in the Bloody Elbow Meta-Rankings). And he's doing it in one of Bellator's most stacked divisions:
"[Featherweight] is one of the best divisions in Bellator right now. There's so much talent coming up in this division, and it's packed. Bellator is putting on so many tournaments in the Featherweight division, which is great for me right now. I want to be staying very active the next few years. There's a lot of up and coming talent right now... There's always up and coming fighters and Bellator is doing a great job going out there and finding that new talent. Especially with the UFC being full and as packed as it is, all these fighters are going to start coming over to Bellator."
It's been an impressive run without a doubt, but Thursday night it could come to an end against the tough Russian Shamhalaev. Yet in the face of that challenge, Curran remains characteristically cool, calm, and collected, not letting any of the pressure get to him:
"I really don't look at it as any added pressure, I just look at is as I'm a professional and this is my job. This is what I want to do and what I've been doing for the last 5-6 years. I don't feel any added pressure at all"
In there, you can hear some of Curran's quite confidence. He's not the kind of athlete who will thump his chest and rub your face in that confidence, but don't take that quiet side to mean that Curran doesn't think he's going to win. Now that he's the champion and standing atop the mountain, Curran is in a position to see both his past and his future in the sport, and in his vision, that future doesn't include a loss any time soon:
"I just look back on all the hard work and everything leading up to where I am at right now and I put too much time into my training, too much time into the gym, and I'm not going to let that go at all. I'm going to be here for a very long time. I'm just peaking in my career. All that hard work, all those hours spent in the gym, that just motivates me to keep my crown in the 145 pound division."
Will Curran stay on top of the mountain and keep the hungry Shamhalaev at bay? He certainly thinks so. And when you listen to this professional calmly explain why, it's hard to doubt him.
Watch Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev and the entire Bellator 95 card this Thursday, April 4. Be sure to join us here at Bloody Elbow for more Bellator coverage, including live results, fight coverage, and discussion on April 4.