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Interview: Curtis Millender prepares for Fernando Gonzalez fight

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Although you never get a second chance to make a first impression, fighters who lost their promotional debut get an opportunity at redemption. Welterweight prospect Curtis “Curtious” Millender (7-1 MMA, 0-1 Bellator) will do just that when he faces seasoned veteran Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 137, May 15, at Pechanga Resort and Casino at Temecula, Calif.

Millender lost his Bellator debut against Brennan Ward back in February. He was originally scheduled to fight British fighter Michael Page, who withdrew from the fight on short notice.

Millender took some time out of his schedule to speak with MMA Latest News’ Al Stover.

Al Stover: Hello Curtis how’s everything going?

Curtis Millender: I’m good how are you?

AS: I’m good, it’s the weekend. You have a big fight coming up against Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 137. How’s camp going for you?

CM: Camp is going great. I feel like I’m in great shape and working on all of the things I need to work on and making sure that I have the tools I have are very sharp.

AS: I know some fighters don’t like to divulge training stuff before hand, but what are some of those tools you are fine tuning and sharpening.

CM: I’m just making sure my punches are crisp and that I’m not making the same mistakes as last time. I’m sharpening my angles and putting together my punches a little bit.

AS: Let’s go back a little bit. You’ve been fighting for a couple of years now. What got you interesting in pursuing mixed martial arts.

CM: I’ve been boxing and wrestling since I was a kid. Growing up watching wrestling, boxing and all of these combat sports. I knew it was something I wanted to do. I really just want to be the best in the world and fighting is what I am pursuing in being the best in the world in.

AS: Right on and when you say wrestling, were a fan of professional wrestling? Amateur? A little of both?

CM: Both. I was a huge WWE fan and still am.

AS: I am too. Some MMA fans they want to keep wrestling and mixed martial arts seperate but what I’ve noticed is a lot of fighters are big pro wrestling fans. You won your first seven fights. You got to make your Bellator debut. It didn’t quite go as planned but what was it like making to such a big stage so early in your career?

CM: It was a blessing and I took it as that I knew I had worked hard to get where I was. I’ve been a pro for two years but I’ve been boxing and wrestling since I was eight years old — almost 20 years. This is something I’ve been working my whole life for. I put the work in and I got a level to where I wanted to be faster than most, but that’s only because of my work ethic.

AS: Work ethic goes really far in anything, not just in athletics but life in general. Your Bellator debut had a chance in plans. You were supposed to fight Michael Page then fought Brennan Ward. Did the change force you to adjust your game plan too much?

CM: Not too much. I’m a professional. I’ve fought guys in my first seven fights with the same modus operandi. They want to take me down. I did underestimate Ward’s speed, not his hand speed but his foot speed. He’s explosive coming off the block, I kind of underestimated that. He caught me making a mistake and capitalized on it so my hat’s off to him. He was the better man that night but I’m going to keep winning these fights and hopefully get a shot back at him. Right now my focus is on Fernando Gonzalez.

AS: Some guys like to watch film on their opponents. Fernando has a lot of experience under his belt. Are you doing anything specific to prepare for him?

CM: I have guys that I train with that have a similar style as he does. I watch a lot of video and have done a lot of studying. You can’t always go off of what you see on video because the guys he’s fighting aren’t like me. It’s going to be an adjustment for the both of us. Come May 15, I’m gonna show why I have this contract, why I’m fighting for Bellator and I’m going to be one of the best in the world.

AS: Especially in a division that’s had a changing of the guard. Douglas Lima is the champion. You’ve talked about avenging your loss down the road but is there anyone else you have on the radar.

CM: I still want to fight Michael Page. That’s still on my mind. I would love to have him next after Fernando. But whatever Bellator gives me, I’m down for. Losing was one of the worst things I’ve felt and never want to feel that again. Good luck to everyone else in the division, they’re going to need it.

AS: I just remembered this. You’ve fought in a ring and in a cage. Some fighters like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Fedor Emelianenko have talked about the difficult adjusting from fighting in a ring to a cage but what has been your experience? You’ve probably trained a lot in a cage though.

CM: There wasn’t much of a difference. I like to be in the center of the mat whether it’s in the cage or the ring. It doesn’t really bother me. Actually I prefer to fight in a cage. I have more room to move, I can circle more and I don’t have to back into a corner. I like it better.

AS: What are some of the things you’ve learned in the last couple of years.

CM: Just to stay humble and work hard. Those are things my coaches make sure I know. It can all go away in a moment. Stay humble, stay focused and move forward. Keep your eye on the prize. I have a family to take care of and I have to make sure that I’m doing the right thing and win these fights.

AS: You said you’re a huge fan of WWE. Many athletes go back and forth between MMA and professional wrestling. Any chance of seeing you in the squared circle down the road?

CM: That would be dope. I would love that, and get in there. Wrestling in the WWE would be fun and another one of those childhood dreams I’ve accomplished.

AS: Thank you Curtis. Is there anyone you want to thank or give a shoutout to?

CM: I want to thank my team. Today was the last day at Reign Training Center. We closed up shop today. Everyone at the Reign Training Center. Mark Munoz, I want to thank him for all of the time and effort he’s put into the gym so we all have somewhere he’s train. The NOC Fight Team, Coach Billy, Mike Harris, all of my sponsors and everybody.

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Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Refereeing’s Loss is Bellator’s Gain

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When former Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith left the organization last week, not many expected MMA veteran referee, John McCarthy, to be his replacement. There is little doubt that McCarthy will make an excellent color analyst. However, it’s hard not to be disappointed that the sport is losing one of the best and most experienced referees.

McCarthy has been part of the fabric of MMA and the UFC in particular, since 1993. He was hugely influential in creating and enforcing the rules of the cage that have changed MMA into the respected sport it is today. Back in early to mid-nineties, the ‘sport’ was fairly labeled by some critics as ‘human cockfighting’. Without McCarthy as an instrumental player in changing regulations and rules, who knows where the MMA would be today.

What we have grown to appreciate most about McCarthy over the past two decades is how simple he makes this tough job look, which can be credited to years of experience and dedication. To the layman, it would appear that it’s a simple as stopping the fight when a fighter is knocked out or submitted. MMA fans know there’s a lot more to it than that.

It’s difficult to remember a moment in recent memory where McCarthy has let a fight go too long, or even stopped a fight too soon. His timing is almost always perfect. His composure and rationale in the cage are unmatched. When McCarthy is the third man in the Octagon we know the fighters are in safe hands.

It’s worth reiterating how important McCarthy is in maintaining the standard of referring and judging in the sport. The sport of MMA is still very young and is growing rapidly and so are the rules. The former LAPD police officer created his own training school known as C.O.M.M.A.N.D. The course teaches the next generation of MMA referees and judges, and there is no better person to be educated by. Referees must complete this or a similar course run by Herb Dean to be licensed as an official.

Former fighter Frank Trigg, who has pursued refereeing since his career wound down, has taken the course. He recently appeared on The MMA Hour to explain just how tough C.O.M.M.A.N.D is. It took Trigg three attempts to pass, emphasizing just how difficult a career path officiating is.

While ‘Big John’ as he is more affectionately known hasn’t completely left refereeing, he will likely no longer be seen in the cage at the biggest shows. The pool of referees trusted with the big title fights is rather small. Normally McCarthy and Herb Dean are tasked with the important title fights.

It’s not all bad that McCarthy is stepping aside for the time being. The likes of Mark Smith, Jason Herzog, and Chris Tognoni have all shown they are capable officials. There is now a great opportunity for them to move into the main event slots. There are also the likes of Yves Lavigne, Mike Beltran and Marc Goddard who can be trusted to referee the big fights.

While it is surprising, it’s understandable that McCarthy is looking for new career ventures. It is no secret that MMA referees are poorly paid relative to other sporting officials. Las Vegas often discloses referee pay when assignments are announced. The pay tends to range between $1000 and $2000 for the night. Trigg explained on The MMA hour that there is no money in becoming a referee and that most also have full-time jobs. McCarthy’s passion for the sport of MMA has been the biggest incentive for refereeing. It is totally understandable that he would take a bigger payday and put all his knowledge of the sport to good use in the commentary booth.

McCarthy will almost certainly be as dedicated to his new job as he was with his refereeing duties. He can also offer a fascinating insight into the officiating of a fight that nobody else can offer. If there wasn’t already an excuse to watch Bellator 192 on January 20th, headlined by Rory MacDonald vs Douglas Lima, then there most definitely is now.

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Chael Sonnen vs. Rampage Jackson the new main event at Bellator 192

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Bellator is getting ready to kick off their heavyweight grand prix at Bellator 192 on January 20th. The grand prix gets started with two former UFC greats who have now set their sights on Bellator gold, Chael Sonnen and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Today it was announced that this heavyweight matchup of two ordinarily light heavyweights will be getting the bump up to the main event. The reason for the change has not been announced.

The main event was scheduled to be the much anticipated welterweight matchup between champion Douglas Lima and former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald. Bellator has been promoting this event as such the welterweight title fight would get top billing. Earlier this week the fighters involved in the main and co-main event were part of a conference call. At the time there was no mention of the switch to the lineup.

This fight between Sonnen and Jackson is just the first in a series of heavyweight fights leading up to the crowning of the Bellator heavyweight championship in December. There has been great interest shown in this heavyweight grand prix between fans and media, which could attribute to the last minute change.

Lima vs. MacDonald will now serve as the co-main event on January 20th. Lima, who has been with Bellator since 2011 has been accused of being overlooked by the organization. He has held the welterweight title since November 2016 and perhaps has not gotten the showcases he deserves. This event will take place at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

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