(He’s got comedic timing, too.)
Mike Thomas Brown destroyed the myth of the unbeatable Urijah Faber with his upset knockout victory at WEC 36 last year, but respect (and until recently, money) have still been hard to come by for the American Top Team featherweight. With the rematch now just a couple of days away, Brownie talks paydays, fame, and beating the oddsmakers in our one-on-one chat with the WEC 145-pound champ.
CagePotato.com: A lot of people seem like they’re still not buying you as the real WEC featherweight champ. Do you feel like you still need to prove that your win over Faber wasn’t just a fluke?
MB: No, I think I’ve proved it now. I mean, I read a lot on the internet, people saying it was a fluke and all that. But I think when I beat Garcia pretty quickly too, and almost in the same way since I hurt him with the right hand and then finished him off, then it was basically like a replay. That showed it wasn’t a one-time deal, that I could do this to good guys. Leonard had never been finished before so I was proud of being able to put him away.
Do you read about MMA on the internet a lot?
Yeah, I do. I go to the Underground a lot. I’m always on there. I read the good and the bad.
That seems like it could be counterproductive at times.
It’s fun. I have a website and I get a lot of positive emails and people saying nice things, but every once in a while I’ll get a really nasty, anonymous hate mail. It’s kind of funny. It’s almost like you really know you made it when you start getting hate mail, you know? I show it to my friends and it cracks them all up.
Are you content with being the WEC champion? Does it feel like a big enough stage, a big enough accomplishment for you?
I’m content because it’s the best show in the world for 145 pounds. Of course I wish the money was better. I know the heavier weights are getting a lot more money than I am and that makes me sad sometimes, especially when I think that I could be two losses or so away from making nothing again and then I could be someone who had reached the number one spot in my weight class but never achieved any kind of financial security. I’d still be broke, no matter if I’d been the top guy or not. That’s upsetting sometimes.
Do you get the sense that some people, other than real serious MMA fans, don’t appreciate what it means to be the WEC featherweight champ?
Oh, definitely. The average guy on the street just doesn’t understand it. I get asked all the time, ‘You’re the WEC champ now, so does this mean you get to go to the UFC?’ It’s frustrating sometimes. I’ve reached the number one spot for my weight but unless you’re a real hardcore MMA fan you don’t know what that means. To other people, it’s like I’m an amateur champ or something.
Like a minor leaguer.
Yeah, exactly, like a minor league champ. When nothing could be further from the truth.
You’re from Maine originally. How did you wind up down here in Florida at ATT?
I lost a couple of fights in a row. I got submitted twice in a row, once against Genki Sudo and once against Joe Lauzon. This was in 2004, I think. But in training I was never getting submitted. I’d go a long, long time without ever getting tapped, and I knew this was a problem. I knew I had to get with some high-level jiu-jitsu guys because that was a hole in my game. And here, you can see how many of them we have. It’s insane. There are guys you’ve never heard of here who are unbelievable.
Miguel Torres recently said he’d go up in weight to fight in the UFC and make more money. Would you ever consider doing that?
Yeah I would. I would do it for the payday. I think I can beat anybody in the world at 145. 155 is a little more dangerous. I can’t beat everyone at 155 and just slaughter my way through the division. It’s more like, I can beat this guy and that guy but I might lose here or there. I’d do it for the money, but my optimal weight is 145. I just want big fights wherever they are.
Since the money isn’t as good at your weight, at what point did you finally realize you could actually make a living as a fighter?
That’s just happening now (laughs). Not until this year and last year have I started to make good money. I guess 2007 was the first year I made any money. 2006 I made nothing. I was working [at ATT] a little bit, teaching a little bit. When I was back in Maine I worked all kinds of shit jobs. I was the night guy at a 24-hour fitness joint. I was a mover. I was a merchandiser for Budweiser. I pumped gas. I would work a minimal amount of hours just to pay my bills so I could train. I would do it so I could barely scrape by and train as much as possible to try and get better.
Even then there was no money at 145. I don’t know why I was doing it. I guess it was just because I hate working and I want to do what I want to do, you know? I like to fight and I was doing it because I would do it for free. I mean, I basically was doing for free.
So what it did it take for you to think, ‘Hey, maybe I’m done working these side jobs?’
Not until the last three months or so did I realize that. You know, like, I’m actually going to make it. I’m going to be okay. Because in fighting you get paydays, but you never know when it’s going to be over. Now I’m starting to get endorsement deals, things are more solid than just one fight. It’s not like, well, after my next fight I’m going to be broke again. Now I’m signing one or two-year deals with sponsors. Knowing that I’m going to have enough money to pay my bills and be all right, unless something terrible happens, it’s weird. It’s already more money than I’d ever thought I’d have just because I hate working.
Do people recognize you now?
Yeah that’s just starting to happen, really over the last six months. When I first fought Urijah, it still wasn’t happening. But now that the WEC has been rerunning that fight, the more they rerun the fights the more people start recognizing me. That’s a pretty cool feeling too. I never thought the day would come where I’d go to the mall and I’d get stopped five or six times. People want pictures with me, all that, I never thought that would happen, especially at 145.
When I was coming up the UFC had dropped 155. Remember that? They got rid of the title for a little while and Yves (Edwards) was kind of the uncrowned champ at the time. He won like seven fights in a row or something like that. I wasn’t even a 155-pounder. You had to be 170 pounds to fight in the UFC, so to have this happen now, the little guys starting to get their due, it’s surreal.
I remember fighting in this tournament in Japan, where it’s historically been a little better for the smaller weights, and it was an eight-man tournament and the winner got $10,000. And it was high-level, too. It was like, me, Imanari, Maeda. And you had to win three tough fights just to make $10,000! After taxes and management you’re looking at six or seven grand. What can you buy for that? A shitty used car?
You were a heavy underdog in the first fight with Faber. What do you think the line will be like for the rematch?
That’s interesting. I don’t know. I think it will be close. I couldn’t imagine I’d be a big underdog. I think it will be even or I’ll be a slight favorite. [Ed. note: Bro, don't get us started.]
Do you follow the betting odds on your fights?
I follow it a little, just because I’m a fight fan and I’m curious. I don’t really care. When I step in the cage that’s all out the window. I go on a lot of instinct and I just start fighting. But I’m always curious about that stuff.
Would you ever put a bet down on yourself?
No, because there’s already enough pressure. I don’t need any more. I had some buddies, though who made good money betting on me against Urijah. When they bet it was like 4-1 or something like that. I had a buddy who made two bets on me because he thought the first one didn’t go through, but it did. So he made like $12,000 off me without really realizing it at first. That’s pretty good money and it makes you feel good to help a friend out like that (laughs).