It’s no secret that fighting is a tough way to make a living. The pay isn’t great, the risks are high, and it’s always important to have a back-up plan. However, for some, the dream does become a reality.
Curtis Millender is 30 years old. The father to two young sons has turned himself into one hell of a knockout artist. Over his last five fights — one under the Bellator banner, three in the Legacy Fighting Alliance cage and his UFC debut — the California native has racked up four knockout finishes. As any up-and-coming fighter knows, the best way to fill the wage gap is through highlight-reel knockouts.
After blasting Matthew Frincu and Nick Barnes with head kicks to close out his LFA career, Millender got the call to fight veteran Thiago Alves at UFC Fight Night 126 in Austin, Texas, in February. The event was only 10 days before his five-year anniversary as a pro. The biggest difference from his prior fights is that a knockout can lead to a $50,000 bonus in the UFC.
As the second round of Millender’s fight with Alves was winding down, the tall welterweight landed a perfect knee to the Brazilian’s head. The fight was over, and so were Millender’s concerns about money.
“This is the first time I haven’t been broke after a fight,” Millender told Combat Press. “I can concentrate on training full-time and not have to worry about rent and bills. I don’t have to worry about anything, so I can focus on the craft. Life has been amazing. I feel like I’m at the best point I have been in fighting. The kids can see that I’m not so stressed out, and they don’t have to worry about being broke after the fight. That’s the biggest thing.”
Well, money is nice. For a newer UFC fighter, the bonuses are typically a lot bigger than the purse. However, this is just the beginning. Millender scored a nasty knockout over a grizzled vet, so the promotion was open to hearing who he wanted next.
“Before I even left Austin, [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby asked me who I would like to fight, and I told him I wanted to fight the winner of Mike Perry and Max Griffin,” said Millender.
At UFC 226, “Curtious” Curtis will finally get his wish. Shelby listened to Millender and has paired him with Griffin.
“I’ve been wanting to fight him for a while,” Millender admitted. “Since before we got pulled up, I’ve had my eye on him. He’s tough, but I don’t see anything special. He’s from California as well. He’s from Northern California. He was the man in Northern California and had all the regional belts there. I was running things in the welterweight division in Southern California. So, I felt it just made sense to see who the king of California was.”
Griffin is currently 2-2 in the UFC. In Millender’s opinion, Griffin’s win over the aforementioned Perry in February left a lot to be desired.
“I don’t think Mike Perry is good at all, so I think it’s kind of hard to judge that fight,” Millender said. “I watched the fight before, and I like the [Elizeu Zaleski] dos Santos fight a lot more. I feel like [Griffin] was challenged a bit more in that fight. The Mike Perry fight, I feel that was too easy for him. The roles are going to be reversed this time. I feel like all he’s going to do is come forward and get hit.”
Millender might be onto something with his assessment of the upcoming fight. While both men are established strikers, Millender has both a height and a reach advantage, which could spell trouble for Griffin. The fact that it’s going down at a huge event is just icing on the cake.
“It was awesome, because every year I say I want to go to International Fight Week next year, and now I’m fighting on the biggest show of the year,” said Millender. “It’s perfect.”
The win over Alves not only helped Millender’s pocketbook, but it also bolstered his confidence. He wanted to prove to everyone that these last few knockouts were not just some fluke.
“I knew I was ready, but now I proved to myself that I was ready,” Millender said. “I knew I had the skill set, but now everybody else knows that I’m here and I’m a threat. This fight will put me in the top 20, so I would like to try and get one more in maybe early November, late October. Then I can take the rest of the year off, enjoy the holidays and get back to work in 2019.”
With money woes out the door and a renewed spirit in his training, Millender is ready to put on a show. He will be relaxed and confident. The only thing better than one performance bonus is two performance bonuses, and that’s what he has on his mind going into UFC 226.
“I’m definitely going for another bonus, so there’s definitely going to be some spectacular things happening,” said Millender. “He’s throwing fastballs, so he’ll give me something to hit out of the park.”
On Saturday night, we’ll find out who really is the king of California.