This is number fifty-five in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran UFC welterweight, Matt Brown. Brown is on a five-fight winning streak and his next step toward the championship is scheduled to be this August 17th, at UFC on Fox Sports 1’s debut, in Boston, against another tough veteran, Thiago Alves. At one point the fifteen fight veteran of the UFC, Brown, was on the brink of being released, but his recent streak has cemented him as one of the toughest guys in the division. As you’ll see from this insightful interview, Brown speaks like he fights. He doesn’t pull any punches. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Matt Brown: My first experience was when I was sitting in an apartment, drinking and bored, and my friend popped in a VHS recording of Tank Abbott. I was hooked, right then, right there. I said to myself, “I want to do this,” the moment I saw it. The same friend let me borrow a Ken Shamrock leglock instructional on VHS to learn some stuff. I practiced it in the living room with some buddies while drinking. I had no idea what real fighting was about. I just thought, at the time, that it was a street-fight, so I figured I would be good at it. A couple of friends and I would practice in the grass in the backyard of the apartments. My friend was showing me things he knew from various traditional martial arts and instructional VHS tapes. There was nothing of practical use, except a guillotine, which I won my first fight with.
My first fight was when that same friend took me to a local show where his friend was supposed to be fighting that night. I don't remember the reason, but he ended up not fighting. I remember as soon as I walked in and saw the cage, my heart started racing. I was on coke too, so it was already racing, but I remember the rush I got just looking at the cage. I heard them announce something to the effect of how, "No one wants to fight this champion of the cage!" I said, "Where do I sign up?" As it turned out, it cost $30 to sign up and I didn't know who I was going to fight. I had no mouthpiece. I borrowed my friend’s shorts (the guy that was supposed to fight but didn't), and borrowed the $30, plus $5 to run across the street and buy a mouthpiece. I bought a mouthpiece, ran into a restaurant on the way back to use their microwave and to boil my mouthpiece, and made it back just in time for the fighters’ meeting. At the fighters’ meeting they matched us up by what it looked like we weighed. The guy I was fighting was a Toughman champion supposedly. And as I mentioned before, I won by guillotine.
It took a long time for it to be more than a hobby. Once I heard about TUF, I realized that this was an actual sport where you can make money. So I went to a local gym and started training for real. I had been searching for some motivation to quit partying and drinking/drugging, and the first day I walked into a real gym and got my ass whooped, I found it.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a submission win back in 2005, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
MB: As noted in the previous question, that wasn't actually my first fight. The one I assume you are referring to, the first on my record, was the first one I trained for and was sober for though. Due to my previous experience, I, naively, felt very well-prepared being that I didn't do any drugs or drink for a week before that fight and I had been training in an actual gym. When I walked in the cage, it was the most intense rush I ever felt in my life. For the previous fights, I was drunk, coked up, and was just street-fighting. Once it felt like I was doing the real thing it, oddly, made me very nervous. My 4oz gloves felt like 10lb weights. My stomach felt worse than it ever had before in my life. I noticed my dad watching from the stands. My brothers were there. I was scared of losing and I realized, “This is what fear is, and I f---ing love it.”
JB: Before you entered the UFC, you were 7-6 as a pro, but you had already fought some very difficult and experienced competition, including Chris Lytle and Pete Spratt. How much did that early part of your career prepare you for what followed?
MB: I'm not sure the effect it had on me later. I never viewed those two fights, or any other fights, as any different from the others. The majority of my earlier pro fights were in my opponents’ backyards, and I just wanted to fight the toughest guys I could find. I never really thought I'd get to the UFC at that time. So wins and losses weren't really a huge concern. I obviously wanted to get to the UFC, but at that time, it seemed almost like a fantasy. I would liken it to a high school kid saying he wants to play in the NFL. I felt like it was a very farfetched goal. I was willing to give everything I had to try to get there, but there was always a thought in the back of my mind that I wasn't really good enough. Regardless, I knew this path of martial arts was the intended path for me, and whether that equated to fighting in the UFC or in Moose Lodges, I was loving it. Fighting guys like the two you mentioned, and others equally as tough, made me realize I could be in the UFC. I was good enough. I knew more evolutions within myself were necessary, but it became a reachable goal. Once I got into the UFC, I haven't thought much about my pre-UFC career, to be honest. I was a different person, a different fighter, and a different human being all together.
JB: You were a competitor on season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter. Though you didn't advance to the finals, you did well on the show and came across as a very tough individual. How do you think your involvement with TUF has affected your career and what do you think of the experience in retrospect?
MB: To this day, there are people that recognize me solely from TUF. I have had fifteen UFC fights, many of which were on the main cards, and I am still known more from TUF than from those fifteen fights. I can't verify that, but it definitely feels that way. I'm glad they portrayed me in a positive light on the show. It's very difficult to get away from the persona that people identify you with on "reality" TV. You don't realize at the time the impact you are having on the rest of your career in those six weeks. I just stayed true to myself and was always honest with the cameras and my colleagues. I don't mind the image that I earned on TUF. I only wish that people would see that I (and the others on the show) am more than just what was portrayed in twelve episodes. People act shocked when I smile, laugh, and joke, or when I give them a thoughtful, intelligent response to a question. They expect the edited, TV version of a person that is an ultra-condensed portrayal of a human being. I am not so simple of a person that I can be described in one paragraph or one episode of a season. No human is, for that matter. People tend to also forget that the show is filming you during the toughest training camp of your life. I am not an a-----e, but when I get in my zone, I don't like being bothered by anyone other than my family or training partners. I, therefore, probably come across as an a-----e, at times, when the reality is I have what Vince Lombardi called a "singleness of purpose." It's tunnel vision. I am not in the business of making friends. I am not a politician or a salesman.
JB: You debuted in the UFC, at the TUF 7 Finale, with a TKO win in a rematch against Matt Arroyo, in 2008. Since then, including that debut, you've had fifteen total fights in the UFC! That number of fights alone is a remarkable feat, but you've also managed to go 10-5, including winning your last five in a row. Out of all those fights, what have been a few of your most satisfying performances?
MB: James Wilks was my most satisfying win, due to the fact that my father passed away eight weeks before that fight. I had to leave training camp for the funeral. The fight was in November, my father had been sick with leukemia since May. The whole summer was very exhausting and mentally taxing for me. I wasn't sure how I would respond to that adversity. To add to it, I was in his back yard (technically), was jetlagged, it was my first time out of the country, and Wilks had a decent amount of hype around coming off of winning the show. This is when I learned firsthand about the element of self-discovery in the martial arts.
JB: You are scheduled to be taking on Thiago Alves, at UFC on FOX Sports 1 debut event, in Boston this August. What do you think of this matchup?
MB: Alves is a gunslinger, like me, so it should make for a very exciting fight.
JB: The welterweight division is extremely deep and very talented. Who are some of the other fighters that you hope to face before your career is through?
MB: GSP is the only person I want to fight. And I want it while he's in his prime. I have what it takes to beat him. The UG can talk all the dumb s--- they want (I read it, f---ers), but I know myself. His style matches up horribly with mine. I have tougher matchups getting to GSP than GSP himself.
JB: During your fighting career thus far, what training partners and coaches have been among the most influential in helping you develop as a fighter?
MB: From the beginning my best friend and coach, Dorian Price, has always been there. We've trained Muay Thai together more than I have with anyone else. Mark Beecher has been there with me since TUF and is always a great asset for my training. Rich Franklin, as a friend, training partner, coach, role model, etc., has always influenced me in many positive ways. Kevin Ross, as a human being and fighter/training partner is the epitome of a martial artist and a person I look up to a lot. The time I spent with Matt Hume changed everything I thought I knew about the game and showed me a whole new world of martial arts that I didn't know existed. My friend/training partner, Dave Branch, opened me up to a whole other level of grappling that's rare to find. Kazeka Muniz has taught me techniques I don't believe I could have learned in my entire life without meeting him, and he has taken me places I never thought I'd go. Scott Sheeley is one of the best coaches (for MMA or for life) I've met in my life. This short list just scratches the surface. I hate making lists like this because so many deserved persons are left off.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
MB: Number one for sure is spending time with my family. Other than that, I also enjoy riding motorcycles (haven't had one in a while though due to contractual obligations), hiking, camping, gardening, shooting guns (trap and skeet), and reading books.
As for individuals that have supported me throughout life, of course my mother will always be number one. Other than that, my wife has supported me an insane amount. She raises our twin boys 24 hours-a-day while I'm off living my dream. No one has sacrificed as much for me as she has. And she does it with a smile, most of the time. My brothers are the only others that have been there through my lowest lows and my highest highs. We have always kept a tight bond and helped each other out no matter what. We are extremely different people (older brother is a lawyer, younger is an artist), yet we have always known that we are there for each other no matter what.
JB: Last question, Matt, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
MB: I am a fighter at heart. It is who I am. I think nothing more about it than I do about being a male, or having brown eyes, or having two arms and two legs. It is who I am. I am not a martial artist. I just compete in martial arts competitions for money. I am a fighter. I study different martial arts and train the techniques regularly, but I do it primarily for the purpose of becoming a better fighter. I very much enjoy the fact that I can simply be myself and make good money doing it. After I am done with fighting in martial arts competitions, I will continue onto a career fighting in other ways. It is who I am and who I will always be. I'll be fighting ‘til the day I die, in or out of a cage/ring.
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