Curran will return to the promotion at UFC 137 next week against former bantamweight title challenger Scott Jorgensen in Las Vegas in a bout that was moved to the main pay-per-view card on Friday. It's another shot with Zuffa and the UFC that Curran said he begged for, and a fight against a top contender that he jumped at the chance to get.
On Monday's edition of "The MMA Hour," Curran told host Ariel Helwani that he's always been physically ready – but now he believes he's more mentally ready than he ever was before and it's time to "put up or shut up."
"Everything's going great," Curran said. "It's kind of like I knew where I need to be to be able to focus on my fighting, and (the past personal problems) seem like such a long way away sometimes. Everything is revamped and going smoothly in my personal life, everything's going smoothly in my gym, and I couldn't ask for a better situation."
Curran (33-13-1) took a short-notice fight against future UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra at UFC 46 in January 2004. He lost a unanimous decision, but went on to a nine-fight winning streak outside the promotion. After a loss in his lone fight for Pride, the Illinois-based fighter went on another winning streak, one that got him a shot at the WEC not long after it had been purchased by Zuffa.
After a win in his first fight for the promotion since WEC 4, Curran got a shot at featherweight champion Urijah Faber and was submitted in the second round. He said that loss started a domino effect for him, mentally, and after four straight losses – all to WEC champions or title challengers – he was cut by the WEC in August 2009.
"Physically, I was prepared as ever for all my fights in the WEC," Curran said. "For Urijah, I just got caught. After that, it was a spiral in my mental focus. I don't know what made them turn the table and give me (another) opportunity. But at this point, it doesn't really matter. I've got to get out there and prove myself."
Curran has won four of five fights since his last loss in the WEC, a split decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki. His one loss in that stretch came in a Bellator event in Chicago, not far from the gym he runs in the city's northern suburbs that is the training home to the likes of former UFC lightweight champ Jens Pulver and UFC featherweight Bart Palaszewski, who also will fight at UFC 137.
But Curran said even at the Bellator fight, in April 2010, he wasn't where he needed to be mentally for Bryan Goldsby, who beat him in a unanimous decision. He said there had been a temptation to sit back and wait for the WEC to call (before it merged with the UFC), since matchmaker Sean Shelby had said they might have a fight for Curran later in the year.
WIth his cousin Pat making his Bellator debut on the same show – the start of what would be his improbable run through the lightweight tournament to a $100,000 pay day and an eventual shot at Bellator lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez – Curran said he felt pressure to take the fight, even though he wanted to pull out.
"We decided I needed to make some money – I was having some financial problems," Curran said. "And part of getting Pat into the lightweight tournament was having both cousins on the same show in Chicago. I kinda stepped in and took one for the team, even though I tried to pull out of the fight. I just didn't want to make up a lie. I was asking to be released and they wouldn't' do it because I was the main event in Chicago. I was going to pull an injury card, but I didn't. So I just went forward with it. That's one fight I regret taking – not that Goldsby didn't earn the win."
Even two wins in his own XFO promotion after the loss to Goldsby had him unsure what his next step might be. He beat Billy Vaughan in May, but said that a loss to him likely would have meant his retirement from the sport.
"I was training hard, I was in great shape," Curran said. "I thought if I can't beat these guys, nothing against them, I don't deserve to be in the UFC. I thought I needed to finish Billy Vaughan to get back in the UFC, but I think that was enough for them to say, 'Jeff looked good, he was back meaning business.'"
And now that he's back, fighting at bantamweight where he believes he has his best shot instead of featherweight or lightweight, Curran said he has to take advantage of what might be his last opportunity in the world's biggest promotion.
"I think about it every second of the day," Curran said. "I was just at a Keith Urban concert and there were 20,000 people there, and I just sat there with chills and thought, 'The pressure.' I'm not intimidated by it. I've been in all the big shows. But what it all encompasses is that I finally fought my way back, and it's either put up or shut up – embarrass myself or get out there and do my thing."