When it comes to the regional MMA scene, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Las Vegas’ Chris Curtis (21-8) will look to defend his Fight Night welterweight title for the first time when he squares off with California’s Darren Smith Jr. (20-10) at Fight Night 12 Saturday night in Lethbridge, Alta.
Curtis, 32, enters the contest having dropped three straight, a first time occurrence for him having never lost more than one fight in a row.
Never having been in this spot before, Curtis said his current three-fight losing streak is one of the toughest things he’s had to endure in his MMA career.
“I’ve never had to walk around with multiple losses in my entire life, and it has been the biggest blow to my pride to walk around with three losses in a row,” said Curtis in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I can’t tell you how often it keeps me up at night. I expect so much from myself, and to have three losses right now is somewhere I never thought I’d be.”
On the flip side, Smith Jr., 32, is coming in hot, having won two fights in a row by knockout, including his most recent triumph at Teofista: Fight for the Troops over Curtis Demarce.
Smith Jr. will now take on his toughest challenge yet in his 30-fight career, and he said a win over Curtis has the potential to boost his stock significantly.
“A win over Chris would do nothing but great things because a lot of people know him from PFL and Dana White’s Contender Series,” said Smith Jr. in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I’m limited to a small circle where real fighters know who I am, but this fight, and win over Chris, would greatly improve that.”
Curtis Starting to Settle in
Curtis is coming off his stint with PFL for the 2019 season, which saw him win his first fight before dropping the next three, including two playoff matchups.
In his first playoff fight with Magomed Magomedkerimov, he would go on to drop a unanimous decision, and would lay his gloves down on the canvas following the decision, hinting at retirement. However, a short time later, he was informed the fighter who was supposed to compete against Ray Cooper III for a shot at the $1 million final fight was unable to compete, forcing Curtis to put his retirement on hold and head back into the cage that same night.
Curtis said that whole experience was tough to go through, and said he didn’t feel like he was 100 per cent when he re-entered the cage.
“I just lost in a million dollar tournament, so I kind of had a freak out and was serious, pissed, angry, emotional, and had such a bad adrenaline dump. I finally calmed down and came to grips with it and they came to me and said they need me to go back out in five minutes,” said Curtis.
“It was rough. I felt asleep that entire fight. Looking at it now, I feel like I’m looking at it in third person. I just wasn’t there, and was in slow motion.”
After taking a month off from training, Curtis decided to put the retirement on hold and get back in the gym and back to work.
Curtis said his training camp in preparation for the PFL tournament took a big toll on his personal life, which led to the indecisiveness on whether to continue on with the sport.
Fast forward three months, Curtis said he’s feeling more motivated than ever to get back in the cage and show once again why he belongs at the top.
“For me, it was just hard. I moved to Vegas for that tournament, so I was away for an entire year. My move to Vegas cost me my fiancée at the time and a year away from my son, so it was rough. It was a hard year, and you start getting to the point where it’s hard to justify everything that this takes,” said Curtis.
“There’s a lot of people back home who believe in me, and this is my first year with my new coach John Wood. This past year we were just learning each other and getting used to everything while having the sword dangling over your head of the next fight. I’m feeling much better now than I did going into the tournament to where we’re meshing better, I’m learning to listen, and I’ve kind of shored up some holes. I didn’t want to retire before I gave it my best shot.”
Speed a Advantage For Smith Jr.
With this bout taking place in the welterweight division, Curtis’ natural weight class, Smith Jr. is moving up in weight for the title challenge, fighting the majority of his fights at lightweight.
Although he’s poised to be the smaller fighter come fight night, Smith Jr. said it’s not a circumstance that’s going to cause him any problems.
“I work with a lot of welterweights and middleweights, so that size and strength difference won’t really be an issue for me,” said Smith Jr.
“As fights go on, my speed and cardio always stay at the same level, and I feel that’s going to be my edge. He’s used to going against guys that he’s quicker than, but this is going to be different for him.”
This will be Smith Jr’s fifth title fight of his career, holding a current record of 1-3 in his past title fights.
Although taking home another piece of hardware would be rewarding, Smith Jr. said it’s more about embracing the challenge and growing as a fighter.
“It’s always nice to fight for a belt because you’re recognized as one of the top guys for the organization, but at this point I just want to keep testing myself and proving I’ve gotten better each year,” said Smith Jr.
“The belt really doesn’t hold that much weight for me anymore, but it’s still a nice thing to get after a hard day’s work.”