With all the negative stereotypes being reinforced lately following UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones’ positive drug test for cocaine metabolytes and subsequent one-day stint in rehab, sometimes we just need to hear a feel-good story. With Jones, we’ve seen a man who tried to be a role model, but instead just can’t seem to get out of his own way. Wouldn’t it be better to instead have someone who didn’t get off to the best start in life, but wound up being someone others might someday aspire to be? Enter Daniel Straus. The talented American Top Team product and former Bellator featherweight champion spent his Christmas in a rather unorthodox manner, going out of his way to help a family in need by taking them shopping for Christmas presents they otherwise would not have been able to afford. All of this occurred a month before his upcoming title shot against Patricio Pitbull, which goes down at Bellator 132 this Friday night (January 16, 2015) in Temecula, California. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” claimed Straus in a recent interview with MMAOddsBreaker. “That was genuine to me. I know I’ve struggled with my personal image and I’ve had my ups and downs. I got the opportunity. I actually went to a school and I asked them. I went out there and I told them that I wanted to do something nice this year and if there was a family I could help out. It came at the perfect time. There was this lady that was struggling. She had six kids and they told me about the family and it was all out of the blue. It was really something I wanted to do. I posted the picture on Instagram, but I didn’t want to make a big deal about it because to me, this was genuine. I wasn’t trying to do a big public relations campaign and get people to like me. I didn’t want to get fans from this. I did it because I know what it’s like. I grew up struggling. I was fortunate enough this year to be able to help somebody. If I can help somebody, I’ll do it because I’ve been in that position. I’ve had people bend over backwards to help me. I’ve had people open early and stay late, give me a place to stay. This was my chance to give back to somebody.” So what exactly happened to make Straus feel so giving? The story is actually pretty compelling. “I was a big knucklehead growing up,” says Straus. “I was always getting in trouble. My senior year was probably the most controversial of all time. At the beginning of the year I didn’t wrestle because of grades. I ended up only wrestling nine matches but I beat the guy who ended up winning my weight class at state. I got kicked out of school and I ended up getting a wildcard and wound up winning nationals despite only wrestling nine matches during the regular season. I only had maybe 10 practices that year.” With poor grades and getting kicked out of school, it seemed like Straus was headed down the wrong path, but he always seemed to have someone there to help him out when the needed them most: “There’s been more than one,” says Straus. “There are a lot of people that helped me along the way, helped guide me to become the man I am. I owe everyone, everyone who helped me, period. The Colemans, the Talberts, Marty and Chris. They bent backwards to help me and it showed. I owe those people a lot. People might think that I’ve moved on to Florida and I don’t think about that stuff, but I do. My coaches too. I was a bad guy to one of my coaches, Coach Staggs. I never got to say this to him but I thank him so much. He had patience with me growing up. He knew I was a knucklehead and he helped me grow. He wasn’t one of those guys that just knew I was talented and let me do whatever I wanted because he wanted to win. He set rules. I had to abide by those rules and it made me be a better person. I’ve had a few coaches that have really, really been there for me and I’m grateful for it.” With a new lease on life Straus devoted himself to change. He didn’t want to be associated with the past and was so intent on being a better person, he even went as far as to have his name changed. “One thing that a lot of people don’t know is that’s the reason I changed my name from Mason-Straus to Straus, the Ohio native admits. “When I heard that name Mason-Straus, there was trouble associated with that name. I didn’t want to be known by that. I didn’t want to be known as a guy who was always in trouble. I didn’t want to be known as a guy that didn’t have the right direction.” Straus has worked to change his reputation as a fighter as well. Despite winning 18 out of 19 fights during an incredible stretch from 2009 to 2013, many knew of him simply as a “grinder,” a fighter who would almost always only win by decision. In his first fight after losing his Bellator title to Pat Curran, the 30-year old made a concerted effort to change the stigma of his fighting style, scoring an emphatic 50 second knockout of former Strikeforce standout Justin Wilcox to earn another crack at the belt. “Mostly it was that whole stigma of, ‘Oh, he’s a grinder. He takes guys down and blah, blah, blah.'” says Straus. “What people don’t realize is I’m a smart fighter. This is my job. This is what I do to pay the bills. I know everybody wants you to be an entertainer but this is what I do to pay rent. I fight smart and win fights. That’s been getting me over so far but apparently it was a problem with a lot of people. I wanted to let them know that I can hurt you really bad if I want to and I will hurt you really bad if I want to. That’s just how I was feeling. It was one of those mental things for me.” As his title opportunity nears, Straus looks to change one last stigma: the idea that he’s not just as talented or dangerous come fight time as Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, the man who handed him the only defeat during that incredible 19-fight run. “When it comes down to it, my confidence is just there,” says Straus. “I know what I can do. I know where I belong. I know how good I am. I know how talented I am. My coaches and teammates know. Now it’s just time for me to show the world. That’s why I feel the way I feel. I don’t take anything away from Patricio. Patricio is a very talented fighter. Everyone knows this. But does everyone know how talented I am? Does everyone know how good I can be or how good I will be? Not yet. Not until I put my hands on him.” Daniel would like to thank his friends, family and friends for their support. He’d like to thank Hector from Unbreakable Mouthguards, his coaches, his training partners and everyone who’s close to him. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielStraus.
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