Bellator featherweight champion, Daniel Straus (25-6), has been on the mend for well over a year now, healing from a broken left hand he suffered during his title-winning fight against Patricio Freire back at Bellator 145 in November of 2015. After three surgeries and nearly a year-and-a-half out of action, the two-time champion is raring to go for his first title defense.
Straus, 32, will rematch Freire in the main event of Bellator 178 on April 21 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. He explained what led to the series of setbacks and additional surgeries, which delayed his return to the Bellator cage.
“The first surgery I thought I was good and I was getting back to business, and then I went to have it looked at and the bone wasn’t healing,” Straus explained. “And then after the second surgery it was the same thing. It was back to the drawing board for me. By June, we opted to have the third surgery and we’re hoping it would heal this time. I have a plate in my hand with six screws.”
The eight-year veteran, who debuted with Bellator in 2010 at Bellator 23 also said the plate in his hand dented after the first surgery and that he needed bone grafts in the second and third surgeries, as well as a new metal plate. “[After the third surgery] It was a therapy process,” he said. “It was just continuing doing therapy and it was rough, but it’s part of the sport.”
The Ohio native broke the same hand on another occasion a few years ago that delayed a bout against Pat Curran, which when rescheduled, resulted in him winning the featherweight title for the first time. Straus admits that he throws many a punch with full force. And also, that he wasn’t exactly being patient early on in the healing process.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “It was me throwing as hard as I could,” he chuckled,” and it didn’t really help that even when it was in a cast, I was still training. I was still trying to do some things maybe prematurely. I wasn’t really grappling or punching with it, but instead of just sitting my ass down, I was in the gym. I was trying to stay active so I wouldn’t fall behind the curb too bad. Like I said, it was a combination of things, but I’m thankful I’m here now. It’s been a long time off, but I’m just ready to get back in the cage and do what I gotta do.”
Straus was asked if having the featherweight belt in his possession during his long layoff made circumstances a little bit easier.
“To be honest with you, everyone asks about that strap and I don’t pay it attention,” he explained. “My job is to fight and that’s all I look forward to. Having that strap is awesome to have. It’s awesome to have that title. I love having that title. I won’t give it up for nothing. When I got out to fight that is all I’m thinking about is fighting. So, for me, it’s one of those things that it’s nice to sit there and it looks pretty. It motivates me in little ways, but it’s the small things. I’m looking for the thrill of throwing these hands and hurting somebody. And after winning, having that strap is what I look for afterwards.”
At Bellator 178, the featherweight champion will be facing Freire for the fourth time in his career. “Pitbull” defeated him the first two times they fought, once by unanimous decision at Bellator 45 and then again by submission at Bellator 132, with Straus taking the strap off of him in the trilogy fight at Bellator 145 by unanimous decision. Fighting the same opponent four times isn’t unheard of in mixed martial arts, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia fought four times, as did Dan Severn and Travis Fulton, but it doesn’t happen often.
“It’s unusual, but it’s one of those fights that’s a barn burner,” Straus said on meeting Freire for the fourth time. “It’s not like we get in there and walk around the cage for 15, 25 minutes, just looking at each other. Every time we’ve fought we’ve been throwing and trying to hurt each other the whole fight. It’s been great fights, you know what I mean?
“I’m really excited to be the guy that’s been able to–I don’t know. Is it history? It might be history– at least make Bellator history and get to fight for a fourth time and even up the score. For me it’s just the fight game. I don’t care if I have to fight him 10 times. If he signs a contract then he is going to fight me and have a hell of a night. For me, it’s the same thing. I just get ready to fight whether I’ve seen them before or haven’t seen them before. that’s just my mindset: sign on the dotted line and get to business.”
You can sense that Straus’s patience is wearing thin and he just wants to get his hands wrapped, put a pair of four-ounce gloves on and get to throwing down. He’s raring to go and April 21 can’t come soon enough. “If you can’t tell,” he said sarcastically, acknowledging the obvious.
“It’s been a really, really, long, long camp,” he continued. “I first signed this contract back in November to fight in January. And then approaching January it got pushed back to February. Still training, still training and from February it got pushed back to April. So I’ve been training for this motherf**king fight for a while.”
The two-time champion has yet to defend his title and failed to do so the first time he held the featherweight crown, losing by submission to Curran in the fifth round at Bellator 112. As the old adage goes: you aren’t the champion until you defend your belt. While Straus is aware he hasn’t yet done so, he vehemently disagrees with that sentiment.
“They say if you don’t defend your belt you’re not … Motherf–ker, I’m a champion,” he said with conviction. “I got that belt. So, that’s not on my mind. I’m just ready to bang. I just want to go out and prove everybody … I meant what I said. I meant what I said when I told them I’m going to take this over when I get back. I mean that. I gave everybody their fair chance and to get done what they needed to get done in a year. So, if they haven’t gotten it done then it’s time to hang it up because I enjoy what I do, I enjoy hurting people and I’m glad that I can get back to it. Being able to defend it, it feels good. The only thing I’m thinking about is just fighting and winning.”
Every single one of the fights between Straus and his familiar Brazilian foe have been closely contested. After losing the first two times, Straus recalled what it felt like to defeat Freire for the title back at Bellator 145, how he fared in the first three contests and gave his prediction on what’s to come when they square off for the fourth time.
“I never had any doubt in my own mind that I could beat him. On paper, yeah, he beat me twice. It’s funny that people bring that up. They act like … They obviously didn’t watch the two first fights, especially the first one. It was a very close fight. In the second fight he got dominated before he choked me out with a few seconds left. In the third fight he got dominated and that’s what’s gonna happen in this fight: he’s gonna get dominated. Aint’ shit gonna change. For me it don’t matter to me. It feels good to win. Like I said, I’m charged up and ready to go.”