Family over everything. That’s a mantra that UFC welterweight “Curtious” Curtis Millender has carried throughout his entire MMA career.
Prior to his current three-fight winning streak inside the Octagon, he was on a three-fight winning streak in the Legacy Fighting Alliance. Prior to the LFA, he was on a three-fight winning streak that included his last Bellator fight and a couple smaller regional appearances. It does not take a mathematician to add up those numbers. The guy hasn’t lost in his last nine fights, spanning the last two and a half years.
Every time he walks into the cage, the father of two young boys has one thing on his mind: family. There is a lot of pressure that comes with fighting to support kids, and while that pressure is very high in the lesser-paying regional promotions, the bigger paydays help alleviate some of the stress.
“I’m just grinding, working hard, taking care of the family,” Millender told Combat Press. “I’m just keeping my focus. Now that everybody’s happy, everybody can finally see that I’m training happy, and it’s a good thing. I’m waiting for my youngest son to turn four, so I can take him on the mat more. I’m just really taking the time to focus on my family.”
Millender has been very successful. After a three-fight knockout streak, which included a second-round knee to put away veteran Thiago Alves in his short-notice UFC debut 13 months ago, the California native picked up back-to-back decision wins over Max Griffin and Jackson-Winkeljohn standout Siyar Bahadurzada to close out 2018.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that I felt like my whole last camp, I was holding my breath,” Millender admitted. “I was doing it in my fight, too. During my camp, I was doing it during sparring. I was holding my breath, and I wasn’t breathing the right way. I’m fixed that mistake, and I won’t have that same issue next time.
“It think I was just thinking too much. I wasn’t going out there and moving the same way I normally do, with the confidence I normally have. All that stuff is gone now. My confidence is higher.”
Millender’s confidence should be higher. For his next fight at UFC on ESPN+ 4 on Saturday night in Wichita, Kan., he scored a co-headlining spot against 14th-ranked Elizeu Zaleski. Zaleski is currently on a winning streak of his own, taking his last six by knockout or decision, all in the Octagon.
“I don’t want to go back to doing anything else,” Millender said. “Right now, fighting is the only option. I mean, it’s not my only option, but I’m making it the only option. That way, all my energy is only focused on this.
“I’m over at the CSW headquarters in Orange County. We only have a few pros, but a lot of amateur guys and a lot of young guys, and we all help each other and get something from each other. I don’t need to be at a gym with a bunch of UFC guys. I’ve already shown that I can outperform a lot of those guys. Siyar trained with some of the best guys in the world, and I already showed I can outperform him. I’m fighting guys who are from gyms with a big depth chart, and I’m still going out there and outperforming, and my coaches are out-coaching.”
Zaleski is one of Millender’s toughest opponents yet, but his own skills and body type pose a tough fight for any welterweight. There just aren’t many 170-pound fighters who are 6-foot-3 and sport a 78-inch reach. Zaleski is giving up four inches in height and a whopping five inches in reach, and even he is on the larger end of the division. The Brazilian’s 14 knockouts also speak for themselves.
“He’s very disciplined,” said Millender. “He doesn’t really throw anything reckless. He’s got really good head movement. But all those things he does well just help my style. I move around a lot, so he’s going to run into something. I’m going to create some calculated chaos, and I’m going to put him down.
“This definitely gets me ranked. If I don’t take his spot, I should at least be in the top 15. The rankings kind of bother me, because I’m not ranked when they have some guys in there who have not beat the guys I have. Once this fight is done, I’ll be ready to take that next step toward the future. I’ve got a new contract, so I’m going to fulfill my contract and fight the guys I need to.”
Millender’s goal for 2019 is to be in at least the top 10. Ideally, he would like a quick turnaround as well, but he does have some secret plans for the summer months.
“I’m used to fighting three to four times a year, so I actually prefer it,” Millender said. “I want to take the summer off, because I have some things brewing during the summer that are going to require my time and attention. I want to focus on that and give my family the attention they need to make our summer successful.”
No matter what’s going on in his career, the focus is always on his family. They are the primary motivation for his career in the first place. It will be interesting to see what the Millenders are cooking up this summer. Until then, the focus is on Saturday night’s fight at UFC on ESPN+ 4.
“I’ve been working on this body-kick combination that will put him down,” Millender revealed. “These guys don’t have the things that I have too much of. They just can’t deal with me. I’m too fast, too long, too smart, and I’m ready.”