Daniel Straus knows he isn’t stepping into the Bellator cage on Friday night in ideal fighting condition.
Just 15 months ago, he was temporarily paralyzed in a motorcycle crash. While he has re-learned how to walk, run and train, his recovery is far from finished.
But no 34-year-old mixed martial artist survives 32 pro bouts without scars and injuries. Straus already had his share before he slid his bike under that guardrail on a Florida freeway in December 2017.
“I don’t want people to think that I’ve just magically healed,” he said. “I still have an issue with my neck. I’m just able to move forward in my career before I eventually have to have the surgery done.”
And while he doesn’t recall details about the late-night crash, he is still hard-wired with the work ethic and steady determination that propelled a former high school wrestler out of a Florida prison and into two stints as Bellator’s featherweight champion.
Straus is determined to get it all back.
“This is what I love doing, and this is my life,” Straus said. “I don’t have much, so I can’t give this up that easily. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t have a high school diploma. I don’t have a resume or a work history from the past 10 years. All I have is fighting. So if you think I’m just going to walk away from something I put my whole life into that easily, you’re just wrong.”
Straus (24-8) returns against Shane Kruchten at Bellator 219 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California.
Straus is refreshingly honest about his career and his recovery — a rarity in a dangerous sport that demands indefatigable optimism. He was a successful high school wrestler in his native Cincinnati, but academic troubles kept him away from a collegiate career.
He realizes that wrestling was “a little bit easier for me. I was one of those gifted athletes that just had a lot of natural talent. So yeah, I was determined to win, of course, but I didn’t have to do much. But now I’m in a position where there’s other guys that are just as talented, if not more. Just as crafty, if not more. Just as hungry, if not more. So now, more than ever, I have to have that determination. I have to have that will, and be able to dig deep and push myself.”
He spent three years in prison for robbery in Florida shortly after high school, but picked up MMA in Cincinnati after his release. He made his pro debut in February 2009 — and after 14 fights in 14 months, he joined Bellator. He has been in the promotion ever since, winning and losing the 145-pound belt twice.
Straus had neck problems long before the crash, which bruised his spinal cord severely enough to cause paralysis. If he hadn’t been a veteran fighter with an extra-thick neck, the injuries could have been much more dangerous.
He managed to talk his doctors out of a procedure to fuse his vertebrae immediately afterward, but he knows he’ll need neck surgery eventually.
He had an even bigger need for competition — and for money after 15 months without a fight paycheck.
“I’m still having difficulties with things, still working my way up,” Straus said. “I have a while to go, you know what I mean? I’m just at a point where I’m ready to fight. I’m not expecting myself to be anything other than what I am. I’m going to go in there and do what I do best. I’m going to fight because I’m able to.”
Straus has been training since September in Las Vegas, a town he openly dislikes. His distaste for Sin City has focused his training and recovery processes, minimizing distractions and amplifying his resolve to make this comeback worth his time and health.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am who I am,” Straus said. “I feel how I feel. I’m a great fighter, and I’ve mostly flown under the radar my whole career. The money fight, that might not (happen). But one thing I want is definitely to get my belt back. That’s always been the goal. Ever since I started this journey, my coaches back home in Cincinnati would tell me, ‘You can be and you will be a champion.’ Every time I even think about fighting, that’s all I think about. I know I can be on top. There’s nobody that can tell me different. You’re a fool if you think that I can’t.”