Pat Curran defeats Shahbulat Shamhalaev at Bellator 95

The question of “Who is the best fighter outside of Zuffa?” might have been answered last Thursday night on Bellator. Pat Curran, the reigning Bellator featherweight champion, stepped into the cage with tournament champion Shahbulat Shamhalaev.

To those that are unaware of Shamhalaev, he had three straight TKO/KO finishes in Bellator to earn the shot against Curran. His most memorable win was at Bellator 90, an event that is in the running for event of the year. Shamhalaev badly hurt fan-favorite Rad Martinez before knocking him out cold with a heavy right hand. As for Curran, his last fight was against Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. That fight is one of my favorite examples of high-level, competitive MMA-striking. The 25 minute fight between Curran-Freire was to me, the perfect first fight to have on Bellator’s Spike TV debut. After five rounds of back and forth striking action, I had Curran winning 48-47 on my scorecard.

After a couple of minutes of both fighters feeling each other out, Curran rushed in for a takedown. In a great scramble, Curran locked in a tight, arm-in guillotine choke. In a matter of seconds, Shamhalaev was dreaming and Curran had another highlight reel-type moment on his resume. Official time of the technical submission stoppage was 2:38 of the first round.

Since losing to Eddie Alvarez, Curran has become one of the most exciting, high-level MMA fighters on the planet. He’s also someone I would comfortably put as number two in my featherweight rankings. If Aldo ever decides to move up to lightweight, Curran would become the only non-Zuffa fighter that has an argument for number one ranking in a weightclass. Along with Michael Chandler (who also has a legitimate argument for being the best fighter outside of Zuffa), Curran is a reminder that great MMA fighters can still be found outside of the UFC.

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