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Chris Curtis poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on June 24, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

It's All Gas, No Brakes For Chris Curtis

Surging Middleweight Steps In For UFC London Co-main, His 5th Fight In 12 Months

It was the end of the road for Chris Curtis.

The Cincinnati native had a good run in mixed martial arts, winning 21 of 28 bouts, but after his second consecutive loss to Magomed Magomedkerimov in an October 2019 PFL bout, he was done, and he put his gloves in the middle of the cage to let the world know.

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The decision wasn’t an easy one, but after he didn’t get a UFC contract following a June 2018 win on Dana White’s Contender Series, Curtis, then 30, felt that time was running out on his dream to make it to the Octagon. He even retired briefly before returning with a win over UFC vet Matt Dwyer, and then he signed with the PFL, his eyes on winning a tournament that would earn him a million-dollar purse. The way he saw it, it was a risk, but one he was willing to take, albeit reluctantly.

“Two things happen - I either go in here and win a million dollars and I don't care - I can afford to do whatever. Or I lose in PFL and then I never get signed by the UFC and I've shot myself in the foot.”

Highlight: Chris Curtis Secures Second TKO In A Month | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Aldo
Highlight: Chris Curtis Secures Second TKO In A Month | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Aldo

He shot himself in both feet, losing a pair of decisions to Magomedkerimov. After the second one, he retired. Then one of the most bizarre stories you’ve ever heard in this – or any other sport – was written.

“I retire, I leave my gloves there, I go in the back, and there was probably a 30-minute span between me freaking out, me coming to terms with it and me relaxing, me getting talked down from coach, and I'm getting dressed, I'm about to walk out the building and get some food, and they're like, 'Hey, can you go back on?'”

Can you go back on?

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Magomedkerimov was unable to continue for that night’s second bout, a semifinal tilt against Ray Cooper III, and Curtis was asked to end the shortest retirement in the history of MMA to fight again. By his calculation, it was five minutes from the request to his walk. Yes, just when “Action-Man” thought he was out, they dragged him back in, and before he knew it, he was in a fistfight again, even if he didn’t realize it after all the madness of the previous 45 minutes.

“The first part of that fight, I watched it and I see I dropped him twice, and it's fine, but I don't remember the first round of that fight,” Curtis laughs. “I remember in my corner, everything snapping back into focus between rounds. And (coach) John (Wood) was looking at me, and he's like, 'Hey, you back?' I'm like, 'Whoa, what the f**k's going on?' He said, ‘Hey, you're finally here.’ I guess he'd been talking to me. I've had a lot of fights and I've never been that disconnected from the situation. I asked him, ‘What's going on? Did I get hit?’ He said, ‘No, you just haven't been here.’ I was on autopilot the entire first round.”

Eleven seconds into round two, Cooper sent Curtis back into retirement, this time seemingly for good.

“I took the risk, and everything went sideways,” he said. “I thought, I'm never gonna get picked up (by the UFC) now. I screwed myself.” I took a gamble, and it did not pay off. Sometimes that happens that way.”

Today, nearly three years after the wildest night of his career, Chris Curtis, 35, is in London, awaiting a co-main event against Jack Hermansson.

In a UFC fight.

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Yes, after returning in 2020, Curtis reeled off five wins, earning him a short-notice assignment against hot prospect Phil Hawes. Their initial pairing didn’t come off as scheduled, but last November in Madison Square Garden, Curtis got his first UFC fight and first UFC win, as he shocked Hawes via first-round knockout. Less than a month later, Brendan Allen was halted in less than two rounds, capping off the feel-good story of 2021. In June, Curtis made it three straight with a decision win over Rodolfo Vieira, and when Darren Till fell out of this weekend’s bout due to injury, Curtis was more than ready to step up, causing many on social media to dub him the “new” Donald Cerrone.

“I'll take it, because Cerrone was a guy who would always show up and he was always willing to go,” said Curtis of the recently retired “Cowboy”. “And Cerrone wasn't afraid of anybody, and that BMF stuff, that's for a reason, so I respect that deeply and I'm totally fine with it.”

Highlight: Chris Curtis Stuns Phil Hawes In The First Round | UFC 268
Highlight: Chris Curtis Stuns Phil Hawes In The First Round | UFC 268

A victory over the No.8-ranked Hermansson will undoubtedly land Curtis in the Top 15 at 185 pounds, making this the wildest 12-month period we’ve seen in the UFC in quite some time. That kind of stretch doesn’t allow for much relaxation or reflection, but he is trying to get a little time to enjoy the ride.

“After the Brendan Allen fight, I got a chance to sit back, relax, go on vacation, which was cool,” he said. “But I don't think I ever really settled in. Honestly, as weird as it sounds, to finally be achieving the things I wanted to achieve, my goals, I try not to think about it. It's overwhelming and I don't want to think about it and be like, I've done enough and achieved it. So I really try hard not to think about it, and I focus on one day at a time, one fight at a time, because there's still so much more to do. People have a little bit of success, and they start thinking about what they've done so far and they get happy and complacent, and I can't afford that. At the end of this year, I'll probably be like, 'Woo, what a crazy year.' But until 2023, I can't really stop and think about it yet. I just gotta keep going forward.”

Curtis doesn’t mince words when he talks about where he’s at, where he wants to go, and the amount of time he has to do it. Not too many UFC rookies are 35 years old, and he knows it.

Last Time In London | March 2022 Flashback
Last Time In London | March 2022 Flashback

“I always laugh when I think that Brad Tavares, a teammate of mine, has been in the UFC for 12 or 13 years and I'm not gonna have that time in the company, that time to make my money and make my name, so I've got to be all gas, no brakes right now,” he said. “Everything I'm gonna accomplish, I've got four years to do it, maybe five if I'm lucky, so I've gotta cram everything I want to do in these next five years. And to do that, I can't get fat or go celebrate. I've gotta stay eyes forward and focused on what has to happen.”

It's a far cry from 2019, and it’s what makes this sport great. All it takes is one opportunity, and a fighter’s life will change forever. So, of course, there’s the (literal) million-dollar question. If Curtis beats Cooper, wins the tournament final and gets that seven-figure purse, is he still here today? 

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“I could have millions in the bank, I'm still gonna be fighting,” he said. “Most of the people in this sport aren't in it because they like fighting. Most people in the sport like competing or they like winning. I'm one of the few people I feel like who genuinely enjoys fighting. I've always wanted to fight, and I've always only cared about fighting. If I had 20 million in the bank, I'm still gonna be fighting people.”

UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Aspinall took place live from the at The O2 Arena in London on Saturday, July 23, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass