In the 2009 calendar year, current Bellator MMA featherweight title contender Daniel Straus fought 11 professional fights. It was, he recalls, pretty awesome.
Living in Cincinnati at the time, Straus was a rookie when it came to mixed martial arts -- but he could wrestle, which meant he stood a decent chance of winning fights without taking a ton of damage.
His first pro bout came on Feb. 7 of that year, in New Munster, Wis. He lost in the second round, via submission to Jay Ellis. After the fight, Straus walked to the bathroom to wash out a cut, where he ran into UFC lightweight Clay Guida.
"Clay walks in and he's like, 'Hey, next time you fight, do this, this and this,'" Straus said. "It was really humbling because I was a big fan of his at the time."
Twenty days later, Straus fought David Silva (who happened to be a teammate of Guida) in Lakemoor, Ill. He won a unanimous decision -- good for his first pro win.
"As I was getting out of the cage, Clay walked by and we talked about what he had told me. He remembered me from before. Those stories stand out. That was a good year for me."
Straus (22-5), who fights Patricio Freire for Bellator's 145-pound title on Friday in Temecula, California, remembers a lot about 2009. He remembers being two things: busy and broke.
He and his girlfriend would rent cars or drive a clunker they owned to get him from fight to fight. Twice, Straus fought on a seven-day turnaround. In April of '09, he had two fights in six days.
He advertised himself as a "short-notice guy." Every promotion in the Midwest knew if a fighter fell out last minute, Straus would be available. He would hit the road for 15 hours at a time, sometimes wearing a sweat suit with the heater on full blast to cut weight.
On one trip to Chicago, a tire blew out and Straus was forced to beg for money of a stranger to repair it. He says he won the fight days later and eventually paid the man back.
"There were times I didn't want to do anything," Straus said. "There were times ice was my best friend. But that's what I had to do, literally, to pay my bills.
"Some people might have said, 'This sucks. I'm cutting weight every week.' I didn't mind. It was my chance to learn, travel, meet new people. I'm a guy that came from not much, so to me, it was like, 'Man, I get to see Chicago for the first time in my life.'"
Obviously, the days of 11 fights in one year are long gone for Straus. He fought four times in 2011 and 2012, thanks to Bellator's now-terminated tournament format. In the last two years, he's fought a total of three times.
Last year was a particularly trying one for Straus. He lost the Bellator title to Pat Curran, in a trilogy fight he felt was unfairly given to Curran for marketability purposes. He wasn't as active as he would have liked and dealt with a few personal issues in the meantime.
"Nothing to write a story about," as Straus describes it, but personal hardships all the same.
One bright spot, of course, was a 50-second knockout over Justin Wilcox at Bellator 127 in October. Long promoted as a "grinder," Straus says he enjoyed flashing his finishing ability for those who doubted he had any.
"Let me clear something up," Straus said. "It's not like I like going into a cage and beating a guy up for 15 minutes. I don't want to be in there for 15 minutes -- just like the next guy doesn't want to. My thing is, I fight smart. I think there's been a misconception about that and it's lit my fire a little bit. Everyone is like, 'Oh, he's a grinder.' No, I'm a smart fighter.
"I had Bellator production jumping on that bandwagon and what it got to, for me, is: you're going to respect me. Period ... I'm a smart, effective fighter."
Straus, 30, will need to fight smart against Freire (22-2), who has compiled 16 career finishes.
The two fought once already, in a Bellator tournament final in 2011. Freire claimed a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Straus says he allowed himself to get caught up in the Brazilian's highlight reel ahead of their first fight, and it affected his performance. He became focused on not getting finished, as opposed to taking the fight to Freire.
"He beat me fair and square but it wasn't like he destroyed me," Straus said. "He won each round 10-9. It wasn't a massacre. I had read all these articles about him knocking guys out and as a young fighter, that's all you start to think about after awhile. That was all I had to go off of."
Fighting out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., Straus' approach in the rematch is completely different. His approach in terms of wanting to fight frequently, however, hasn't changed. Belt or no belt in 2015, Straus wants fights.
"It's kind of up in the air with the schedule now," Straus said. "Put me on the undercard. I don't care. Let me fight. This is my job. People don't understand, as a fighter, my job is to clock in and whoop somebody's ass. So, let me do that. I want to be the company guy. Let me come and fight, you know?"