One of the most common clichés in mixed martial arts is when a fighter says, “I want to make a statement.” In the thousands of interviews conducted every year, it’s probably the second most common statement, right behind “I’m the best I’ve ever been.” Regardless of how many times these phrases cross the lips of fighters, more often than not it’s nothing more than lip service. It would be nearly impossible to count the number of times a fighter says this, only to turn around and lose — sometimes embarrassingly.
“Curtious” Curtis Millender is not exactly silent outside of the cage, but he hasn’t been a loudmouthed jerk who brags on himself either. He doesn’t really call people out, and he takes both victory and defeat graciously. However, if he ever says he wants to make a statement in the cage, fans should take note.
Millender is currently riding a six-fight winning streak with three of those coming by nasty knockouts. He headlined Legacy Fighting Alliance 34 in October, when he knocked out then-surging Matthew Frincu in 38 seconds. He followed up the performance with the kick heard around the world when he cold-cocked Nick Barnes in the LFA 30 headliner less than two weeks into January. That knockout is already in the running for “Knockout of the Year” honors, and it made a statement to the right people, too.
“The first thing that went through my mind was that there was no way in hell [the UFC] can deny me now,” Millender told Combat Press. “There was no way. I knew I was going to get a call within a few days. The very next night, I got the call that they wanted me to beat up Thiago [Alves]. I was overwhelmed. On February 28, it will be exactly five years since I became a pro, so with this fight, it’s coming full circle.”
Now 14-3 as a pro fighter, Millender is finally in the place he was striving to be, and on Sunday night, at UFC Fight Night 126, he will finally get the chance to show the world that statement wins are his status quo. And, for his debut, he couldn’t have asked for a better match-up.
Alves has been in the UFC over twice as long as Millender has been a pro. The Brazilian made his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 2 in October 2005. “The Pitbull” is a short, stocky welterweight with a 22-11 record, including 12 knockouts. However, the American Top Team mainstay will be giving up five inches in height and a whopping 10 inches in reach, so Millender is feeling very confident in this one.
“I’m so ecstatic,” Millender said. “I can’t say that I can’t believe I’m here. I knew I was going to be in the UFC eventually. The opportunity, opponent-wise, is perfect. Now, I get to show them that I belong here.
“He’s very tough, definitely, and, obviously, a veteran of the sport. He’s been in a lot of wars and a lot of battles. Looking at his opponents, I believe Carlos Condit is the tallest guy that he’s fought. I have four inches reach on Carlos Condit, so this is going to be different. If Carlos can step in and hit him with elbows, I can definitely step in and hit him with elbows. My confidence is on another level, so I’m ready to go in there and take it like any other fight.”
Make no mistake, any reasonable fan knows that Alves is not going to be a walk in the park for the promotional newcomer. Alves may be 5-6 in his last 11 fights, but one of those losses was to Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title and other losses were to the cream of the crop, like Condit, Jim Miller and Martin Kampmann. His last fight was in April 2017, when he beat Patrick Cote by unanimous decision, but travel issues and an opponent injury have prevented him from fighting since. Alves is also a slight favorite in betting odds, but Millender made a statement in his last fight and has no plans to slow down.
“[A win over Alves] definitely puts me up there,” said Millender. “I’m not in a rush to call out top-10 guys, trying to get title shots. I definitely want to take my time to be in the UFC and dominate in the UFC. I don’t want to be like a lot of the other local guys that get called up and haven’t fought anybody tough yet, but they get into the UFC and wash out. I don’t want to be that guy.”
Millender is a very intelligent fighter. He knows that if he keeps his head down, works hard and perseveres, he can go far in the UFC. He is still only 30 years old, so there is plenty of time to work his way up. Training at CSW Training Center in Fullerton, Calif., he has not only been able to focus on his stand-up game, but he is continuing to evolve his other modalities as well.
“I feel like my striking is on a very high level, so I’m not really getting away from that, but I’m getting back to my wrestling and submission roots,” Millender explained. “I’ve always been a very talented wrestler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a submission in this fight.”
In a previous interview with Combat Press, Millender mentioned that he would kill for this opportunity, but he didn’t even have to do that. He has a lot to work for in life, so when he’s not training his ass off, he is spending time with those that matter most.
“I’ve been taking care of my sons and putting a lot of focus on them,” said the proud dad. “I’ve just been trying to focus on being a better person — more responsible. I’m just trying to get everything straight, so my mind doesn’t have to wander from the focus of being a talented fighter.”
And, as previously stated, Millender is not one to call out people, but when he’s ready to make a statement, that should make any fan’s ears perk up, because, in his last six fights, he has done more than deliver.
“I’m going to go out there to shock the world,” said the rising welterweight. “I’m putting Thiago out. I’m going out there to show that I deserved this shot.”
On Sunday night, live on the Fox Sports 1 main card, Millender will step into the limelight against the toughest opponent of his career to prove that he can execute on the one phrase that most fighters have made into an overused cliché.