This is number sixty in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran UFC fighter and former WEC featherweight champion, Mike Brown. After his last fight, a victory at UFC 146, many believed that the former champ had retired. They were wrong. The New England native was just taking some time off, and he’ll be returning to fight in Boston, against Akira Corassani, on the Fox Sports 1 debut, on August 17th! 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?
Mike Brown: I started wrestling when I was thirteen, my freshman year of high school. I wasn't sure what it was all about. I did it because my best bud, Chris Brooks, joined the team. So I followed him. I was really small my freshman year, 93lbs, but I loved it right away. I couldn't get enough of it. I won a state title my junior year. I started training BJJ around 1995. I was just picking up things here and there. Royce Gracie and the early UFC's were my motivation.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a win by keylock, up in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2001, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
MB: It was a surreal experience. I was a huge fan of the sport and was happy to finally get that feeling of getting in the ring. You don't see a lot of keylocks used anymore. It was a different time for sure.
JB: The early part of your career is notable for the fact that you fought several talented lightweights. In your first twelve fights, you went 9-3, with the three losses coming to lightweights, Hermes Franca, Joe Lauzon, and Genki Sudo. The Genki Sudo fight also marked your debut in the UFC and your lone appearance before they eventually added the lighter weight classes. Sorry to focus on losses, but what do you recall about those three fights at lightweight early in your career, and that debut at UFC 47?
MB: All three of those guys turned out to be great world-class submission guys. Genki was already established, but Lauzon and Franca really got more recognized a little later after our fights. I fought at lightweight because there were no opportunities at 145lbs back then. And I was actually a little smaller then than I am now. I fought at 145 most of the time, but WEC wasn’t around and the UFC's smallest weight was 155. In all three of those losses, I got submitted, and that is the reason I moved to American Top Team. ATT had the best BJJ of any MMA team in the country at the time. They helped me tremendously.
JB: You entered WEC in 2008, at WEC 34, and you became featherweight champion by knocking out Urijah Faber in your second fight, at WEC 36. How satisfying was winning that championship and then defending it twice, including the rematch with Faber?
MB: It was a dream come true. All the years of hard work, all the injuries, all the struggles, it was all worth it. I reached the top of the mountain. That was the most prestigious event for featherweights. It was a true world championship. What made it even better was beating a tough, formidable opponent in Urijah.
JB: After your rematch with Faber, you fought current UFC featherweight champ, Jose Aldo, and lost the belt at WEC 44. You finished your WEC career with a record of 6-2 in the promotion before transitioning into the UFC. What did WEC mean to you and your career, and how did you feel about Zuffa purchasing, and eventually merging with, the promotion?
MB: I wanted that since I started with the company. It's more exposure and more money and the same opponents. For my weight class, nothing changed. The only difference was that more people were watching and our bonuses got a whole lot bigger! For the heavier weights, we got to see the unification of the belts. Look at how great they're doing. Ben Henderson, Cowboy, Pettis, Condit, Stann, the WEC merge shook up the UFC lightweight and welterweight divisions.
JB: You have gone 2-2 in your second stint in the UFC, losing your first two fights by decision, and then winning your latter two by decision as well. How would you characterize your return to the UFC and those four fights?
MB: My return to the UFC was a nightmare. I was having some health issues, and didn’t fight well, and lost that split decision to Nunes. Then I took the fight with Yahya three weeks later. I was thinking that would make me feel better, but I doubled my problems. What a nightmare! I took some time off, got healthy, had a couple surgeries, and got my act together. I started getting my rhythm back and won two in a row.
There was actually some confusion about me retiring. I told my coach, Ricardo Liborio, that if I didn’t feel good in the Pineda fight, it would be my last. I think he then told either Joe Rogan or Goldie about this, and it somehow got put on the air that it was my last fight. I fought three rounds with Pineda and felt great. My body felt great, I had a lot of fun, and of course had plans to continue my career. Now it seems like a mini-retirement because I've had a year off. I had a neck surgery that required six months of rehab.
JB: You are scheduled to face Akira Corassani, in Boston, on the Fox Sports 1 debut, on August 17th. What do you think about this matchup and fighting in New England?
MB: I’m super excited to be back in Boston. I was born and raised in Maine, went to college in Vermont, and I trained and lived in Massachusetts for a bit. New England is home. That's where I started. It has come full-circle and it’s great to be coming back home. I have so many friends and family that will love to see me fight locally. This is a dream come true. I know Akira is a very young, tough fighter. I will be prepared and can’t wait to put on a show.
JB: I'm sure you're trying to solely focus on August 17th, but when you let your mind wander, what do you think is in store for your fighting career beyond this next fight?
MB: I’m taking it one fight at a time. I want to leave with a few great, memorable fights in the UFC. I’m still looking to make my mark. I don't feel like I’ve done that yet.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
MB: I go through a lot of phases. Right now, I’m playing a lot of Call of Duty, bowling, or hitting up a comedy club.
So many people have helped get me here - From my high school wrestling Coach, Ted Reese, to my first MMA coach, Seong Choi, my old boxing coach, Bobby Russo, to the coaches at MSA, Keith Rockel, Doug Calenda, and Pat Barbieri, all my coaches at ATT, Marcos Da Matta, Howard Davis, Katel Kubis, and of course the man who brought me to ATT, Ricardo Liborio. Thanks to Dan Lambert for making dreams come true. Thanks to all my family, “One Punch” Pickett, Clarence, Paul, Brooks, Big Mike, TV Stevie, my wicked awesome girlfriend, Leia, and my dog named GAGA.
JB: Last question, Mike, 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 never imagined I would grow up and have a job I love. I truly never thought it was possible. When I was a kid, and teachers asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up,” I remember answering, "A pro-baseball, basketball, or football player." I always heard the same old thing. “Do you know what the chances are of becoming a professional athlete?" Well, I did it, and I love it.
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