About a year and a half ago, Bellator featherweight contender Daniel Straus didn’t give any consideration to becoming a world champion.
He fought because he liked doing it. Put a guy in front of him and Straus’ fighting juices would start flowing, almost uncontrollably.
Straus enjoyed beating up people and did so to anyone willing to face him. And for nearly two years, it seemed as if a month didn’t pass without Straus appearing on some mixed martial arts card -- and walking away victorious. Between June 2009 and April 2010, he amassed 12 wins in a row.
More impressive was that Straus, a standout wrestler in high school who did not attend college, didn’t train vigorously or work to master other fighting disciplines. He just loved to fight because it kept him out of trouble. Avoiding trouble was all the motivation Straus needed.
Straus experienced his share of trouble before making his mixed martial arts debut in February 2009. Growing up in Fields Ertel, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, was difficult for Straus. He attended Sycamore High School, where he became a national champion in 2003.
But Straus spent more time outside the school building than inside, and soon trouble followed. He left a troubled family home by his junior year, did whatever he deemed necessary to acquire money -- which included getting involved in criminal activities.
His penchant for getting into trouble eventually caught up with him and he spent a few years at Noble Correctional Institution in Caldwell, Ohio.
“By the time I was a junior in high school I was living on my own, living with other people,” Straus told ESPN.com. “I was in and out of school, doing whatever I wanted to do.
“I got arrested on robbery charges and ended up going to prison for three years -- from 2004 to 2007. You learn a lot when you’re locked up. Trust me.
“So when I came home it was like: ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ It wasn’t like I had a college education. It wasn’t like I had a GED. I didn’t have plenty of opportunities waiting for me.”
A friend who Straus knew from his teenage years asked him to visit a gym in Cincinnati and start fighting. After months of saying no, Straus eventually agreed.
He hasn’t stopped fighting since. It served as a way to avoid returning to prison. Despite his success in the cage, becoming an MMA world champion wasn't part of the plan. Even that 12-fight win streak failed to raise thoughts of winning a title.
He felt invincible, until a Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament semifinal bout with Patricio Freire in May 2011.
Freire defeated Straus by unanimous decision, and it altered the way Straus viewed being a professional fighter.
“I couldn’t be beat,” Straus said. “I was getting over in fights because of talent. And you know the saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’? But going into that fight [with Freire], I knew I wasn’t ready. That guy didn’t train to win each fight; he trained to be a world champion.
“I wasn’t in that position at that time.”
Straus didn’t leave the cage that evening disappointed with losing. He knew he wasn’t the better fighter that night. What upset him was not preparing to be the best he could be. The days of not mastering other fighting disciplines ended. And no one trains harder than Straus now.
His dedication level is off the charts, and it’s paying off.
He won the Bellator Season 6 Featherweight Tournament in May and will carry a four-fight win streak into Bellator 78 on Friday night against veteran Alvin Robinson in Dayton, Ohio.
Straus (20-4) is eager to display some new fighting techniques. But he realizes that Robinson isn’t someone to take lightly.
“[Robinson] brings a lot to the table, especially with him being a jiu-jitsu black belt,” Straus said. “He’s very strong on the ground. I definitely don’t want to get caught in any submissions.
“He’s a southpaw fighter, like I am. It’s unusual for us to fight southpaws. That poses another threat in the fight. He also has good cardio; it’s not like he’s walking into this with one tool. He has experience; he’s fought in the UFC, he’s fought great guys.”
Respect for Robinson isn’t the only factor keeping Straus motivated and on his toes, nor is staying away from trouble. He wants to become Bellator’s 145-pound champion.
Featherweight titleholder Pat Curran is putting his title on the line against Freire -- a date has yet to be determined for the bout --and Straus is slated to face the winner.
Becoming champion isn’t an end-all for Straus, but a means to a greater good. Straus became a father a few months ago and it has brought purpose and meaning to his life.
“I just had my first child four months ago,” the 28-year-old Straus said. “I had a little girl; her name is Makayla.
“It definitely changed a lot of things for me. Outside of fighting it’s not like I’m going to get a business job. It’s not like I’ve been in college for four years and decided to do this. I don’t have any leeway. I don’t have another job. I don’t have another income source. And I’m not doing anything illegal to get money.
“As I’ve grown and as time’s gone on, my focus has changed and my goals have changed. I want to be a world champion.”