Road to Bellator: Kurtz vs Mann
The undercard for Friday's Bellator 145 is chalked full of local talent and the opportunity to compete at the Scottrade Center is coveted by many.
With an injury and a boxing suspension to two key fighters a bit of a shuffling of the bouts ensued. One match-up that has been cut and pasted together is a welterweight bout between Kyle Kurtz and Steve Mann, two veterans of the first St. Louis Bellator and two fighters in need of a victory.
Kurtz was originally set to face Kevin Engel, but a suspension sidelined the veteran boxer setting up a chain of events that saw Vincent Eazelle, Hugh Pulley, and Luke Nelson being removed from the card. Kurtz now finds himself with a new opponent, the athletic Iowan, Mann.
In June, Kurtz submitted Ultimate Fighter veteran Adam Cella at Bellator 138 with a nifty armbar from the bottom. Kurtz would go onto face Cella and Mann's teammate, Joaquin Buckley, in a highly touted battle of two unbeaten fighters in September. Despite remarkable resiliency, it was Buckley's night and a first round TKO handed Kurtz the first loss of his professional career.
"That last loss for me was a good loss for me," Kurtz said. "It was something to get my mind where it needed to be, honestly. To help me realize again what a loss means and what I need to do to get back in the win column. This will be something to help me get to that next step and to recognize even more who I am. I'm not going to cry about it, but look at is as something that happens for a reason."
Shortly after the fight with Buckley, Kurtz switched camps opting to follow his Muay Thai coach Shannon Samuels to Modern Combat Systems in Hazlewood.
"I love it up here, man." Kurtz said. "There are a bunch of monsters up here. They're athletic and always ready to go. There are a lot of bodies up here and that's exactly what I needed. A lot of guys in my weight class here to push me. Scott Futrell, Hugh Pulley, Ty (Flores) pops in now and then. I'm getting to work with Cjay "the Groundshark" Hunter. He really likes to work those leg locks, man."
There are many similarities between Kurt'z original opponent and Mann but regardless of any differences the game plan always remains the same.
"Whether it's Finney's guys or whoever it doesn't matter." Kurtz said. "It doesn't matter if I'm fighting Georges St. Pierre. I want to go against the best. Doesn't matter what gym they're from. I'm trying to be on top. Each and every time I'm trying to stair step. I have to be more explosive than him, I have to be faster than him. As soon as that gun goes off, I got to be ready to run. Be ready to sprint."
Experience and a hard lesson learned from the Buckley fight has Kurtz refocused on the task ahead.
"I'm one of those guys who don't mind to go out there and brawl." Kurtz said. "I'm going to be smart about this fight, I'm going to be as technical as possible. I'm going to be looking to use my strengths and set up everything smart. We know where my strengths are. I'm going to play it smart and hopefully come out with the 'W'.
Kurtz hopes to catch that lightning in a bottle and notch another win at Bellator, something he hopes will impress the higher-ups and the Bellator matchmaker Rich Chou.
"I'm really hoping to impress all the guys from Bellator," Kurtz said. "Not just Bellator, though. I'm trying to get my name out there even more outside the Midwest. I'm trying to get people to know who Kyle Kurtz is. I'm trying hard to get to that next level and snatch up a contract."
Mann, 25, is currently in the midst of back to back losses, the first time in his career. After a Bellator loss in June, he would go on to lose by first round TKO in August to Jason Louck (19-13) in Iowa.
If there was ever a time that Mann (10-3) was desperate for a win, it would be now.
Mann was originally scheduled to face Pulley, but with the matchmakers shuffling opponents, Pulley decided to remove himself from the card.
"It doesn't bother me. I signed up to fight." Mann said. "That's all I do. I know (Pulley) said I was running or whatever, but that's not my department. That's not up to me. I trained eight weeks for Pulley and it sucks but it doesn't affect my performance. I have put the training in and I'm ready no matter who the opponent is."
Mann, who helped both Adam Cella and Buckley prepare for their fights with Kurtz, recognize's a noticeable difference between Pulley and Kurtz.
"Hugh is more athletic, has more speed, and likes to move in and out." Mann said. "Kurtz hits very hard. He's not super technical, but he has better jiu-jitsu than Hugh. I don't build my game plan around each opponent. I set my pace and do what I do. If you follow too much of a game plan and things don't go accordingly it's hard to recover."
On his first trip to Bellator, Mann lost in the second round to Justin Guthrie via brabo choke after dominating the majority of the first round.
"I had a good first round and started the second round off strong," he said. "I dropped him with a knee and I just came in too fast and got caught in a choke. I was a little too excited. I learned that the next time I have someone rocked to not rush in. Assess the situation first."
If all goes to plan the second time will be the charm and Mann is determined to bring home the victory.
"That's the motivation," he said. "To go out and show Bellator what I can do. I just can't make the little mistakes. The goal stays the same. I just gotta win. That's all that is on my mind."
Top billing at the November 6 event features two world title bouts when Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (24-2) defends his strap against Daniel Straus (23-6) and Brooks (16-1) vs. Held (21-3) with the 155-pound belt on the line.
Tickets for Bellator 145: Vengeance, which start at just $30, are on sale now on Ticketmaster.com and at the Ford Box Office at Scottrade Center. Doors for the event open at 5:00 p.m. CT local time, and the first contest takes place shortly after.
Bellator 145: Vengeance airs live on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, while preliminary bouts will stream on Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET.
Full card: (Subject to change)
Patricio Freire (24-2) vs Daniel Straus (23-6)
Will Brooks (16-1) vs Marcin Held (21-3)
Emmanuel Sanchez (11-2) vs Justin Lawrence (7-2)
Michael Chandler (13-3) vs David Rickels (16-3, 1 NC)
Bobby Lashley (13-2) vs James Thompson (20-14, 1 NC)
Alex Huddleston (6-1) vs Augusto Sakai (8-0)
Garrett Mueller (2-0) vs Scott Ettling (3-0)
Kain Royer (1-2) vs Clay Mitchell (1-0)
Adam Cella (6-4) vs Chel Erwin-Davis (2-1)
Steve Mann (11-2) vs Kyle Kurtz (4-1)
Garrett Gross (6-4) vs Jeff Crotty (0-0)
Adam Meredith (4-1) vs Jordan Dowdy (2-0)
Brandon Lowe (0-0) vs Rashad Lovelace (1-0)
Bellator 145: Vengeance
Friday, November 6th
Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO
Steven Mann photo courtesy of Jimmy Range Photography