The Fighter Among Us
By Bill Johnson / November, December, 2011
His profession is dangerous. Violent. Brutal. Punishing. His knee was torn apart. His bicep was damaged. His eardrum was punctured. Bones in his hands and feet were broken. His on-the-job injuries have required seven surgeries. Still, he loves what he does, and he can't imagine doing anything else. "I'm living the dream," he says.
He is Mike Brown. And he is one of the very best extreme cage fighters in the world. In fact, he earned a prestigious championship belt to prove it. His professional combat requires skill in four different martial arts -- boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu.
In 2005, Brown moved from Maine to Florida to train at the American Top Team Martial Arts Academy in Coconut Creek. He settled in Boca Raton with his girlfriend Leia Culoso, two cats, and a small dog. The world-class training center is a long way from Maine, where Brown grew up and was the 1992 state high school wrestling champion, before he went on to study biology and wrestling at Norwich University in Vermont.
Considering the way he earns a living, pummeling opponents on the ground and rendering them unconscious with a rear naked choke, you may be surprised that he describes himself as laid-back, easy-going and non-confrontational.
That is not true when he's in the cage, of course. He has won 25 of 33 fights. Five times, he has knocked out his opponent. Thirteen times, he has won by submission -- his opponent, in pain or in danger of passing out, gave up. His other victories were by decision. On the losing end, Brown has been knocked out once.
Brown has won a number of minor titles, but the most prestigious, the one he's proudest of, is the World Extreme Cagefighting championship. He won it in November of 2008 by knocking out Urijah Faber, known as the California Kid. He later defended his title against Faber and won a decision against him. He held the title for approximately a year before losing to Jose Aldo.
On his way to a world championship, Brown never really had big ambitions. He always set small goals. In 2001, he fought "just for fun." There was no money in the sport to speak of, especially for "little guys," though he did make $48,000 for a fight this past August. Interest focused on heavyweights, and Brown is 5'6" and weighs close to 145 pounds when he fights, though he normally weighs between 160 and 165.
But one fight just for fun led to another and another and another. Brown was good enough to enter what could be called the major league of this warriors' world. He wanted to be in the top ten, then in the top three, and then the world championship.
Along the way, he suffered damage to an eye (corneal erosion), plus injuries to his leg, neck, bicep, ear, hands, and more, putting him out of action for months, while recovering from seven surgeries. Fortunately for him, the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) covers medical bills for fighters injured while fighting. Brown's worst injury occurred in a fight in Japan, when a leg-lock artist destroyed his knee. "My knee was garbage," he says. "Everything was torn."
Despite the danger, Brown sees beauty in the sport. He respects his opponents, never talks "smack," and is courteous and modest. And he is able to make what he calls "a comfortable living," never fighting now more than four times a year.
As a kid, he never dreamed of life as an athlete. He would watch fights on television and think that to be a fighter was an amazing life, but one beyond his reach. "I grew up thinking you had to work at a job you didn't like," says the fighter.
At 35 years old, Mike Brown figures he has a couple of more years of fighting, if his body holds up and he keeps winning. After that, he plans on coaching. As a former world champ in mixed martial arts, he should be in demand. Has he ever second-guessed the career path he chose? "No, sir," he says. "It's my dream come true."
To follow Mike Brown and his career, visit his web site at www.mikebrownmma.com. His August fight can be seen on the web site of the Ultimate Fight Championships -- UFC.com.
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