"I hope my story can inspire somebody and I can leave my little mark on
the world in a better way." - Matt Brown
Matt Brown wasn’t as excited as many of his longtime fans were to see him on the cover of the August 2012 edition of Fight magazine, saying, “It’s cool, I guess,” but that’s just his way. He’s not all about the trappings of fame, the idea of finally making it to the next level of his career after a three fight 2012 winning streak, or getting a lot more publicity than he used to. Just let him fight, give him a paycheck, and he’ll be happy to get out of the spotlight and go back to his family in Columbus, Ohio until the next time.
It was nice to see though, as Brown’s resurgence finally resulted in the rest of the world getting in on what is one of the sport’s better stories, replacing the usual suspects on the cover of an MMA magazine with a blue collar tough guy who doesn’t fit into the usual slots usually reserved for such placement.
“I never really thought of it as a big deal, but with me fighting in the UFC and being on TV, the media and everybody have to find a story within you, so I guess that was what everybody wanted to use as my story,” he said. “I never wanted that to be a big thing, but it is what it is. It’s not something I could just erase and take away.”
That story is Brown’s rise from obscurity, addiction issues, and a near-death experience to first become a UFC fighter, and then, after some ups and downs in the Octagon, a very good UFC fighter. And while telling that story of redemption hasn’t resulted in him taking a trip to the newsstand or bookstore to ask for 20 copies of the issue with his face on it (“I think my wife did,” he laughs), he does realize that it hit home for a lot of people who are now where he once stood.
“I hope my story can inspire somebody and I can leave my little mark on the world in a better way. I get letters and stuff every now and then from people that I inspired, and that really makes it all worth it. But other than that, I’d almost rather not even be on a magazine,” he chuckles, eager to keep as low a profile as possible, something that won’t be an option once he lands in the nation’s collective living room Saturday night as one half of the UFC on FOX opener against Mike Swick.
And to be honest, that’s the story that needs to be told now, because for all the success “The Immortal” has had this year, it’s easy to forget that in 2010, he was on the verge of the UFC unemployment line after losing three consecutive bouts. He did save his spot in the welterweight division in June of 2011 with a decision win over John Howard, but five months later, he was submitted by Seth Baczynski, again putting his head on the chopping block.
Yet as soon as he dispatched Chris Cope by knockout in February of this year, it was clear that Brown had turned a corner. He wasn’t fighting tentatively like he did against Howard, and in interviews it was almost as if he had cleared his mind of the consequences of a losing result on a fight night. He was going to prepare for bouts the best he could, say goodbye to his lady Colleen and his twin boys Connor and Hunter, and go fight with the aggressive style that earned him acclaim in the first place. If it resulted in a win, as he expected it to, great; if not, he had gone down swinging. But while some things stayed the same, others changed.
“There are definitely a few things that have changed,” said Brown. “I live back home around my family so I’m a little bit more comfortable in that sense. I wrestle a lot more than I used to, and I think I’m in a better place mentally than before. I think all those things make a big difference, but I didn’t consciously try to change anything. I didn’t feel like I was doing too much wrong, even when I was losing. What I felt like I was doing was making stupid mistakes. Everybody makes little mistakes in fights, but I was making those big mistakes, and it was coming mainly from not focusing on my grappling. So now I work a lot more on my grappling and I think my mind’s in a better place. I’m surrounded by good people and positive people and a positive team, and when you put all those things together, good things happen.”
After the win over Cope, Brown decisioned Stephen Thompson in April and stopped Luis Ramos in two rounds in June. It was the first time Brown won three in a row in the UFC since 2008-09, and he owes it all to the people around him that have given him peace of mind in the weeks before the battle on fight night.
“I didn’t actually realize how important it was before,” he said. “When I had kids (in late 2010), that’s when I needed that support group around me and I needed the right people around. Before I could just go wherever I wanted to and if I wasn’t happy with whatever was going on that day, I could change it easily. But with kids, there had to be a lot more stability, and once I had them, it was something I realized that I needed, so I came back home to Columbus, Ohio. I didn’t really have much of a team when I first got back to Columbus, and I didn’t have many people to train with. But I needed to have my kids in the best place, and that was whether I won or lost. So I put it all together a little bit better. We all train our asses off, we all get in good shape, and it’s those things outside of the actual physical training that make the difference. Everybody knows what we’re gonna do – we all know how to armbar and punch in the face, but if you’re not mentally in the right place, that’s when you miss things and you make big mistakes. If you’re having to consciously think about your techniques and your moves, you’re already a step behind. You could probably get away with it at the lower levels, but if you’re fighting good guys that are fighting instinctually, you’re gonna get your ass whupped for doing that.”
The Swick fight will tell the tale though, clearly determining whether the rise of Matt Brown stays on this level or goes further into the ranks of being a welterweight contender. Some would say he’s already won the biggest fight just getting here in the first place, and that’s accurate to an extent. But he’s far from content. Once you’ve gotten a taste of life at the elite level, it’s impossible to go backward. So while he might have to accept more magazine covers in the future, that’s a price he’s willing to pay.
“This is my dream,” said Brown. “If you asked me when I was on the show if I expected to have 14 fights in the UFC, I would have never even thought about it. It’s shocking to me, but I’m really enjoying it. At first, I probably wouldn’t have admitted it back then, but then it was more like ‘wow, that’s great that I’m here; let’s see how long I can make this last.’ And now it’s more of, I belong here, I’m here for a reason, and I really have a chance to get somewhere with this and even become champion. And I really believe that. This is my home and this is where I belong.”