It's been a tough year for Cincinnati mixed martial artist Chris Curtis. He's dealt with multiple injuries, fight cancellations and the loss of a close friend. All of these disruptions have kept him out of the cage since October 2011, but it appears that his fortunes have changed.
On Saturday, August 25, Curtis (7-2) will face Ultimate Fighter veteran Kris McCray (8-3) in the main event of CES MMA 13: War at the Shore in Atlantic City, N.J. It's the biggest fight of his career, and Curtis believes that he could earn a spot with a major promotion by beating an established fighter like McCray.
Curtis isn't taking this opportunity lightly. He adjusted his training schedule to increase his cardio and strength while adding in extra work on his jiu-jitsu and wrestling defense. Curtis's hard work has resulted in him being on weight much earlier than he usually is for a fight, which has allowed him to train up to 12 hours per day in preparation for McCray.
However, despite being in the best shape of his career, life hasn't been easy for Curtis. His entire training regimen was disrupted when his teammate Chris Smith was killed in a car accident last April. He's struggled to adjust to life without his friend ever since.
"For me, at least, it's been really hard. I don't have one of my main training partners here anymore. My buddy Chris Smith passed earlier this year - it was jarring to my training schedule. We've been training together for years now, so it's kinda weird not having my main support guy there."
Curtis forced himself to move on without Smith, and with the help of boxing instructors and his team at Vision MMA, he's found a way to move forward with his career. Now Curtis has turned his focus to McCray. Curtis thinks McCray will do everything he can to take the fight to the ground.
"He's not going to stand there with me. "I'll say that right now," Curtis said. "He won't stand with me, there's no way he will. He's going to try to put me on my back and hold me down, and he's going to try to beat up on me for 15 minutes. My goal is to either knock him out or put him on his back and TKO him."
Curtis believes that his training for this fight has prepared him for anything McCray brings to the cage on Saturday night.
"He's going to come in there - he's got good Greco, good upper body stuff. He going to want to wrestle and keep me on the mat for 15 minutes. My wrestling feels the best it's ever been right now. It's always been a big problem of mine, but I've been working so hard on it. I've been stopping takedowns, shots, and bodylocks."
After observing Curtis training at Vision, it's hard to argue his point. Some of the gym's best wrestlers struggled to get him to the ground. His jiu-jitsu has also improved, which was apparent after watching him submit an experienced heavyweight via kimura during a recent sparring session. It's clear that Curtis has taken his game to a new level, and it appears that he's ready to take the next step in his career. He sees this fight as his chance to make an impact in this sport. Curtis hopes to prove that he can make it through hard work and determination.
"This is the one thing I have in my life that I'm really good at," Curtis said. "I don't even consider that natural talent. You have some guys like [my teammate] Victor O'Donnell, who is just naturally talented. I'm not like that; it's just a lot of hard work. I hate all the training, I hate feeling this way. I hate waking up in the morning and feeling like I'm dying inside - everything hurts. But I can't stop."
"This is what defines me, this is what I'm good at, this is how I'll leave my mark. I'm never going to be president, I'm never going to own a Fortune 500 company, but I want my name to go down as 'Chris the Fighter.' I want people to know that this is my mark on everything. I was great at it, not because I was naturally talented, but because I busted my (expletive) every day. I try to be here [at the gym] more than anybody else. This is what I do."
Curtis will get that chance to leave his mark on Saturday night. A victory over Kris McCray might just be his ticket to Bellator or another mainstream organization. A victory would show that Chris Curtis has finally arrived as a mixed martial artist.
You can follow Chris Curtis on Twitter @TheActionman513.
Derek Ciapala is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor for MMA. He has been published on GatewayMMA.com, UltimateApocalypse.com and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or on Twitter @dciapala.
Source: Personal Interview