(“I’ve been at the bottom. When I lost three in a row I thought I was cut for sure. I have no fear of that. I can look at it and say there’s worse things in life that could happen.” / Photo via Getty)
By Shawn Smith
A real-life Rocky if there ever was one, Matt Brown is not your typical MMA fighter. He didn’t wrestle in college and he doesn’t have the polished good looks that will land him on posters. He turned to mixed martial arts as a way out of a lifestyle that was killing him, and it has been anything but a smooth ride to the top of the UFC welterweight division. Three straight losses in 2010 had many, including him, questioning whether or not he was a UFC-caliber fighter.
Now with six straight wins in the UFC, Brown will get the most challenging opponent of his career. On December 14th at UFC on FOX 9, he’ll take on former title contender Carlos Condit in what is sure to be an explosive bout. We recently spoke to Matt to get his thoughts on the fight that could launch him into title contention, how MMA saved his life, his experience on TUF, what he thought about Georges St. Pierre‘s controversial win over Johny Hendricks, and so much more. Enjoy.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: What was it about mixed martial arts that drew you to the sport?
MATT BROWN: The first time I saw it was Tank Abbott way back in one of the first UFC events. That got me kind of interested. The first one that really got me was Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie in Pride. I thought “man, this is freaking amazing.” It was something I wanted to be a part of in some way.
The draw is mainly the intensity and the authenticity of the sport. The UFC says it best: It’s as real as it gets. That’s a rare thing in life and in sport.
I find it funny you say Sakuraba and Gracie because they were so grappling-based and you’re more of a knockout guy.
At that time with the knowledge I had of MMA, Royce was unstoppable. He was the epitome of a UFC fighter. He was this mysterious guy who came in and did all these things that no one had seen before. It was amazing. The fact that [his fight against Sakuraba] lasted an hour and a half, it was like watching a movie. I don’t know what it was about that fight, but even to this day it’s a pretty amazing fight to me.
You received your nickname “The Immortal” after surviving a heroin overdose. It sounds melodramatic, but would you credit mixed martial arts with saving your life?
Absolutely, 100 percent. There wasn’t anything else that grabbed my attention like the martial arts did. Nothing else created that drive in me to improve myself. That just gave me a reason and motivation to improve myself and it was something to wake up everyday and look forward to. It saved me.
You got your start in the UFC after being on The Ultimate Fighter. What are your thoughts on that experience looking back?
It was a great experience. I had a good time for the whole show. I think I was fortunate to be on one of the seasons where we had a lot of serious guys. We didn’t have a lot of jokers and no one was trying to cause any problems. I enjoyed it up until I lost. I hurt my ankle pretty bad and when I lost the fight I couldn’t train, so I basically was sitting around the house with nothing to do.
Knowing you as a quiet person, it seems an odd decision that you’d want to compete on the reality show. What was it about TUF that was appealing to you?
Just the chance to fight in the UFC, there was nothing else to it. I didn’t expect to get picked on the show. I was surprised and shocked when they chose me. I didn’t think I had the personality, but I guess they saw something else.
Were you a fan of The Ultimate Fighter before joining the cast on season 7?
Yeah, absolutely. I was a fan since the first season.
We’re almost 10 years into The Ultimate Fighter now. Do you think it’s still the best avenue for fighters to enter the UFC?
I guess it depends on your situation. Everybody is a little different. It can definitely be a positive thing and a good way to do it.
At one point in your UFC tenure you had lost three straight fights, and four of five. What if anything was going on in your life at that point that led to those defeats?
I can look back and find many reasons, but I don’t think they’re good reasons. I was going through a hard time and had some things going on in my life, but there’s no reason it should have caused me to lose fights. I think it was more about reacting to situations and how I let them affect and distract me. I’ve learned from that since. I’ve learned how to control my mind a little better and handle things a little better.
Do you think you’re a better fighter because of that experience?
In some ways, yeah. I’ve been at the bottom. When I lost three in a row I thought I was cut for sure. I have no fear of that. I can look at it and say there’s worse things in life that could happen.
Did you ever question yourself as to whether or not you were a UFC-caliber fighter?
There were times when I said “look, if I can’t beat these fighters then I don’t deserve to be here anyways.” I knew I had it in me to beat them, but that doesn’t really matter. If you’re not winning, you’re not winning. I was just fortunate to be given a second chance and everything has worked out since.
You’ve now won six fights in a row in arguably the most talent-filled division in the UFC. What do you credit with the turnaround?
I don’t really credit one specific thing. It’s more a matter of going into the gym and working hard. I pride myself on working as hard, if not harder, than anybody else. I stay consistent and I don’t get out of shape or fat. I don’t have to cut insane amounts of weight. I watch my diet as well. I’m a believer that if you work hard enough at anything, good things will happen and that’s what has happened. I didn’t really change much of anything. I just kept working hard and kept my eyes on the road ahead.
How important do you see the mental aspect of fighting?
The mental aspect is gigantic. During training camp you’re building your physical shape for the fight. When it comes down to the fight itself, as long as you did everything physically proper, then the fight is 90 to 100 percent mental.
You keep busier than most fighters on the roster, with this being your seventh fight since February of 2012. Do you think staying busy makes you a better fighter?
If I’m not hurt and I have the ability to fight, then I want to be in there fighting. I don’t see the point in sitting around. I’m not getting any younger. I keep working hard and keep testing myself. I am in this sport to fight. I take a week or two off after every fight. That’s three vacations a year. That’s more than 99 percent of other jobs out there.
You’ve said on multiple occasions that you’re in this sport to build a legacy and be one of the best ever. Where does that drive to be successful come from?
Gosh, I don’t know where it comes from. It’s just natural for me. It’s human nature, I guess. We all want to be successful, we all want to be the best at what we do. It’s just in my blood.
You talked about getting into the sport to get away from bad habits. When did it switch from a hobby to something you wanted to be very good at?
The first day I walked in the gym I wanted to be very good at it. I don’t really do anything that I don’t want to be really good at.
Nearly all of your losses have come by submission. As a veteran of the sport, is it difficult to make the changes necessary to fill that void in your game, or is that just part of the job?
It’s not difficult. I’m constantly working on my grappling, my wrestling and my jiu-jitsu. It’s just one of those things. I don’t pick it up as quickly as I do striking and boxing. I think my jiu-jitsu is getting a lot better. I think my jiu-jitsu was good enough where I shouldn’t have been getting submitted when I was. Basically, I was doing everything I could to not end up in a grappling match and that was the reason I was getting submitted. Rather than properly trying to fight my way out or grapple with the guys, I was constantly trying to find a way not to be grappling. That wasn’t necessarily the right way to go about it.
So now you try and be ready for the fight to go anywhere.
Exactly. I try and be more open-minded in a fight and be willing to fight from all positions, rather than being stubborn and dead set on one style of fighting.
Now you’ve got the most difficult test of your career in Carlos Condit. What do you bring that he hasn’t seen before? What makes you different?
I don’t know, that’s hard to say. He’s fought a lot of really tough top guys. I don’t know if I’ll bring anything he hasn’t seen before. Just because you’ve seen it before doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it better.
What difficulties does he present?
He definitely brings a lot to the table. I think the biggest thing is his toughness and composure, whether he’s being beaten up or not. He’s never finished until he’s finished. You’re going to have to fight him from bell to bell.
I would argue the same attributes could be said about you. Do you see yourselves as similar fighters?
Yeah, I think we’re really similar. We’re similar in a lot of different ways. The only difference is that he has fought higher-level guys and succeeded where I haven’t. To me this is a big step up in my career and a chance for me to get into the upper echelon.
There’s an argument to be made that you were an underdog in your last three bouts, and you’re certainly an underdog against Carlos Condit. Do you relish in the role of underdog?
To be honest, I don’t even think about it that much. It’s irrelevant to me.
To you it’s just two guys who have skills and are competing?
Yeah, I see him as a guy across the cage from me who wants to fight. It’s irrelevant to me if other people think I’m going to lose the fight. Obviously I think I’m going to win, so what does it matter what other people think?
Once again you’ll be fighting on a FOX main card bout. Do you take that as a compliment to your exciting style?
Yeah. Dana nicknamed me “Mr. FOX”. It’s pretty flattering to me, I think it’s pretty cool.
Do you like fighting on FOX?
Yeah, but it’s pretty much all the same. Every arena, every locker room, every hotel. They’re all pretty much the same thing.
You really seem to look at this as a job and it doesn’t seem to be about the fame. Do you come from a blue-collar family?
I would actually disagree with that. I don’t actually look at this as a job. I do come from a hard working family. When I talk about it, I do say it’s my job and I take it seriously. Ultimately, it’s not really a job. I get up everyday and I do what I want to do. I do what I love to do. It’s more of a lifestyle. A job, you go to work and come home and forget what you did. I live this.
After your victory over Mike Pyle, you uncharacteristically called Georges St. Pierre out. What sparked those comments?
That’s the fight everybody wants. If I have to ask for it, I have to ask for it. I’m on a six-fight winning streak. Guys have gotten title shots for less than that. Why not ask for it?
Does a win over Carlos Condit make you the number one contender?
I think it should. He’s at number two and a win over him should put me at number two. A seven-fight win streak and beating the number two contender — I don’t know what else I’d have to do, really.
Out of curiosity, how did you score the controversial GSP vs Hendricks bout?
I watched it, but I didn’t actually score it. I don’t know who should have won on the judges’ scorecards, but at the end of the fight I had the feeling that Hendricks won that fight. Whether he won the points, I don’t know. He won the fight.