Back when Mike Brown
was the WEC featherweight champion, he heard the same question all the time. People who barely followed the sport, people who didn't know any better, they'd ask him, 'Does this mean you get to go to the UFC now?'
Only now that the UFC has absorbed the lighter weight fighters from the WEC roster, Brown's stay in the UFC isn't going at all like he planned. It started with a split decision loss to Diego Nunes
at UFC 125
. Three weeks later, he was back in action again for a unanimous decision loss to Rani Yahya
In less than a month's time the former champ was 0-2 as a featherweight in the UFC, and his career outlook was suddenly quite grim.
"My heart is broken, dude," Brown told MMA Fighting this week. "My heart is just broken after that."
His heart isn't the only casualty. In the first round of the Yahya fight Brown completely tore the medial collateral ligament in his left hand, leaving him unable to get a grip on his opponent for the rest of the fight.
"I don't know if my hand got caught on him or the cage or something," Brown said. "The adrenaline was going, so I didn't notice it. But when I went to grab him, I couldn't really grab with my hand and my finger – my ring finger on my left hand – it was bending the wrong way. The ligament was gone so it was just like a rubber finger."
Brown recently had surgery to reattach the ligament. Now he's in a cast for the next four weeks, leaving him plenty of time to try and find an answer to the question that's been plaguing him lately: what's wrong with me?
It started before the Nunes fight, Brown said.
"I thought I was overtraining, because for some reason my body just starting feeling really tired. I was fatiguing really quickly in the middle of my camp. It was like I was getting more out of shape even though I had never stopped training. It didn't make any sense."
Brown, always a workhorse in the gym, knew the answer wasn't more of the same. His coaches suggested he cut back on his training to give his body a chance to bounce back before the fight. He did, and it seemed to help at first.
"But literally three and a half minutes into the first round my body just shut down," he said. "Just filled with lactic acid, nothing would work. It was a nightmare."
He went on to lose a decision in a close fight, but it wasn't long until his phone rang again with an offer to get right back in the cage and face Yahya on the UFC's Fight for the Troops 2
"What happened was, I lost, and that always depresses me. I get super depressed after every loss, so when they called me back, I was like, yeah, let's do it. Whenever I lose I want to fight again the next day."
Brown took the fight, and then tried to take it easy in training, he said. He did some drills, sparred no more than twice, and tried to let whatever was going on with his body sort itself out. It didn't help.
Not only did he tear the ligament in his hand in the opening frame, Brown said, he also wore himself out. Even though he started by trying to keep the pace slow until the second half of the fight, he found himself back in his corner at the end of the first round feeling the same heavy, spent feeling that had torpedoed him in his last fight.
Before he knew it he'd suffered his second straight loss since returning to the UFC as a featherweight, and all in the span of three weeks. At first he waited to hear the news of his release from the organization, he said, but it didn't come. Still, you can only lose so many in a row and stay in the UFC, and Brown knows it.
"I thought I might be gone now. I'm just grateful that Sean Shelby, Joe Silva, and Dana White, you know, I think they like me. They kept me around and I wasn't sure I still had a job. They said, 'You're okay; get your body sorted out and we know what you're capable of.' I was just so grateful for that. I know that if I lose another one...well, I'm not necessarily that worried about just getting cut, but maybe it's time for me to go away. I'm not in it to be average."
That's not to say that the 35-year-old Brown feels ready to walk away from the sport. He's still got a lot he wants to accomplish, he said, and he can deal with losses like the ones he suffered against featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Manny Gamburyan.
"If I feel good and my body feels good and somebody beats me, then it's like, hey that guy's just a good fighter. What can I do? That, I can stand," Brown said. "But these last two, they were different. It was something wrong with my body that was making me lose those fights. That's what's bugging me. There's something going on and I can't figure it out. I can't do this. If I'm losing like that, it's over. I'm out of here."
Brown said he's consulted his doctors and they're optimistic about figuring out the issues and getting him back on track. With four more weeks in the cast and then a few more weeks of rehab after that, he has some time to get to the bottom of it before the UFC will expect him back in the cage.
And right about now, Brown said, the time off is welcome -- for his mind as well as for his body.
"I just fought twice in January. I need some time to regroup, recalculate, and think about things. Then I can come back and start beating guys. ...There's way more I want to do. Way more. I'm nowhere near done."