Thirteen years and 26 fights into his UFC career, Matt Brown is essentially the same guy he was back when he was introduced to the wider MMA audience as a cast member on Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Sure, he’s greying around the temples and his beard seems destined to transition into a salt-and-pepper mix in the not too distant future, but as he readies to step into the Octagon this weekend against Carlos Condit in the co-main event of the first fight card of the year, “The Immortal” still carries the same mindset and mentality as always.
“The opponent doesn’t really matter,” he said quickly and flatly when asked about finally sharing the cage with Condit, a fellow veteran he’s been linked to face at various points over the last seven or eight years. “It’s cool I get to fight a guy like Carlos — a legend; a guy that has been through many years of high-level competition in this sport — but realistically, it doesn’t matter who is standing across the cage this weekend.”
Brown has never been one to worry much at all about the name on the other side of the ledger or the trappings of being a professional athlete. In fact, he’d probably bristle at being described as a “professional athlete” because it sounds a little too polished and clean for the rough-hewn, sandpaper stylings of the 40-year-old Ohio native.
Where some competitors enter the sport with championship visions leading them down a carefully manicured path, Brown has always operated with more of a “get through this next one” approach. For 15 years and 41 fights, he’s largely only been focused on the next date circled on his calendar and making sure he’s ready to step into the Octagon and unleash hell whenever that day arrives.
A few years back, he pressed pause on his career, announcing his retirement following a punishing first-round knockout win over Diego Sanchez in Norfolk, Virginia. A few months later, he was ready to get back to it and was paired with Condit, only to have a torn ACL scuttle the bout and send him to the sidelines.
Reflecting on his momentary hiatus after returning to action, the earnest veteran acknowledged he always knew he wasn’t done for good when he stepped away, and as he prepares to kick off his 14th year competing in the Octagon this weekend, he’s taking that same “let me get through this one” approach to his future.
“This fight might be my last; I have no idea,” said Brown when asked about his temporary retirement and how he’ll determine when it’s finally time to hang up his four-ounce gloves for good. “I go one fight at a time right now.
“I’ve always been that way, to be honest, and it accumulated over time,” he added, reflecting on a lengthy career that has seen him share the UFC cage with welterweight talent from various eras, including Pete Sell and Chris Lytle, Mike Swick and Erick Silva, former champs Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks, and fellow hardened veterans like Sanchez, Donald Cerrone, and this weekend’s dance partner Condit. “Then I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve had a lot of fights.’ I had no idea that it would be this long, (but) I don’t think it was anything that I acquired; I think that’s the way it has always been.”
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It’s easy to glance over how rare it is to amass a resume likes Brown because he’s never risen to the top of the division, isn’t someone who courts attention, and won’t run down the list of records and achievements he’s built over his lengthy career slinging leather inside the UFC cage.
He’s one of only 25 fighters to make 25 or more trips into the Octagon, and one of just six competitors from the first 10 seasons of The Ultimate Fighter still on the active roster.
He holds the record for the most appearances and stoppages in welterweight history, is tied for the third most victories all-time in the 170-pound ranks and can equal Vitor Belfort’s record for the most knockout wins in UFC history if he’s able to put Condit away on Saturday.
“I’m absolutely aware of them,” he said when asked about the various records he holds. “I see the company I’m in with those records — particularly the knockout record; that’s a record to be proud of, I think.
“On the same token, I’ve had my fair share of losses too, and I think that’s pretty definitive of my career: I’m going to knock you out or you’re going to knock me out; one of us is going out here.
“But either way, when we walk out, you’re not going to want to step in here with me again,” continued Brown, voicing a sentiment his previous opponents would likely confirm without hesitation. “Only God knows who’s going to win or lose, but in the end, you’re going to say, ‘I don’t want to fight that son of a bitch again; that was brutal.’”
So how has he managed to remain competitive and put together a career flecked with divisional records and the kind of longevity few manage?
“Training my balls off, man,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m obsessed with this sport. I love this sport to death; always have and still do. I just train hard, man, all the time. Even if I have a surgery, I’ll come in and work on different body parts and stuff.
“It’s my life; it’s not something I just do,” he added. “I don’t do a fight camp — I’m not that guy. I’m in the gym all the time, training all the time. This is just what I love doing.”
When some fighters say that, you know there is an expiration date on their passion; that eventually, after a couple dozen fights and a decade on the grind, the fiery love that fueled their primes will cool and give way to a nostalgic love, and the sweat-drenched daily sessions will give way to fewer, less intense trips to the gym.
But with Brown, it’s easy to see that even after turning 40 and more than a dozen years slugging it out with an assemblage of the best fighters to pass through the UFC welterweight division, that fiery love for this sport still burns strong and it will likely never be extinguished.
“To me, it’s not so much about the wins and losses, even though that’s important in terms of finances and getting rankings and getting the bigger, better fights that you yearn for,” he said. “For me, it’s just about being a warrior, having that bushido spirit, going in there, putting on a good show and having fun.
“That’s the way I’ve always been. I love this sport, I love competing, and I love fighting.”
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