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Jeff Curran's nickname is "Big Frog," but it just as easily could have been "Opie." The top contender for the WEC featherweight championship grew up with a seemingly typical small-town Midwestern upbringing, once raising hundreds of frogs he'd caught in a local pond in his garage.
Only Curran's upbringing was hardly a Mayberry moment.
Curran, who fights Urijah Faber for the WEC featherweight title Wednesday at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas in a card televised nationally on the cable channel Versus, was hardened by a chain of equally horrific events.
His parents divorced when he was nine years old, ending any chance of Curran continuing the unremarkable but typically Midwestern life he had known.
He went to live with his mother, Linda, but said life became a series of nightmares. "Everything I knew as a child had suddenly changed and went on hold," Curran, 30, said. "Things went downhill and I never had peace in my life."
He had what he called a "crappy home life," as his mother struggled to cope with her divorce. She surrounded herself, he said, with less-than-savory characters and the young Curran and his siblings were surrounded by alcohol and drugs.
He moved back in with his father, John Sr., but that didn't solve many of his problems.
John Curran Sr. was a diabetic, who developed heart trouble, had several kidney transplants, lost an eye, had his thumb amputated and had frequent problems with his pancreas.
When Curran was 18, his father died at just 40 years of age due to complications from his diabetes.
"It was a really a traumatic point in my life," Curran said. "But in a way, it helped make me the person I am today. He taught me so much about power, about will power. He pointed out the power we have inside ourselves. When you think you're down and out, you still have the ability to move forward and move forward strong.
"He just stressed that you never get anywhere if you only do it halfway. And so I never do anything halfway. I put my life into everything I do."
Curran, who is 28-8-1, put his life into becoming one of the world's finest mixed martial artists. He went on to earn a black belt in jiu-jitsu and become a professional boxer.
He has found a home at featherweight and stands on the brink of an accomplishment he couldn't have dreamed of during his dark years after his parents' divorce. Then, he was only hoping to be able to make it to the next sunrise.
On Wednesday, he'll take on the highly regarded Faber, whom WEC matchmaker Scott Adams believes may be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Curran, though, is hardly intimidated by the "California Kid," and says Faber is going to have to find a way to adapt to him.
"I really feel like I'm the champion here and he's the challenger," Curran said. "I think he has the potential to be the best some day, but right now, I feel this is my place and my time. I'm not being cocky or overconfident and I know I'm going to go through hell fighting this guy.
"I just don't see him having an edge over me. Our styles clash a bit, but I don't see him having an edge anywhere."
Faber is a former college wrestler whom previous opponents have praised for his strength. He's a finisher who has compiled a 19-1 MMA record and has only won by decision two times.
If he has a weakness, it's in his standup game, which he's worked hard to improve.
Curran was 1-2-1 in his boxing career, but said he had fought all quality opponents and insists a fight on the feet clearly favors him.
"It's something some people don't think about enough, but I know what it's like to take hard punches and come back and throw hard myself," Curran said. "I don't know how well he can do that. I know he doesn't have the ability to finish me. I don't think he's going to stop me.
"He's strong, but I don't see him as freaky strong or anything. I don't think he's way strong for the class. And I don't think it's going to be a bench press contest anyway."
And if it were, Curran would probably find a way to win. One of the things he learned from his childhood was how to be resourceful.
Though he says he misses his father greatly some 12 years later and gets emotional thinking about him whenever he fights, he said his life has made a dramatic turn.
His mother has solved her problems and will be cageside on Wednesday cheering him on. His brother, John Jr., has never seen him fight, but plans to be at the Hard Rock today.
Life, Curran says, is finally good. He's married with a child, he runs a successful jiu-jitsu school and he has a chance to knock off one of the biggest names in the lighter weights of MMA.
"One of the things I learned from my father is how to keep fighting and to not give up so easily," Curran said. "When I saw him suffer like he did and have all the problems he had, it would have been easy to say, 'I've had enough of this,' and just kind of give in to it. But he never did. He had this spirit inside of him and he just battled, battled, battled. "He gave that to me. I might be in a tough spot (against Faber), but it doesn't mean I'm done. I've been a guy who's been able to find a way my whole life and I think I'll be able to do it this time, too."
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