Growing up in the sweltering, country-fried air of Alabama, Marcus Brimage sometimes imagined what it would be like to be recognized. For a lifelong athlete in the football-crazed South, that aspiration usually meant one thing -- strapping on a pair of cleats and shooting for the NFL.
So when Brimage beat the odds and parlayed a love of Muay Thai into an undefeated amateur MMA record, a burgeoning pro career, a big break on The Ultimate Fighter 14, and ultimately, a decisive UFC debut victory over Stephen Bass (followed by a notoriously laughable post-fight interview), Brimage was sure his life would change.
He was, of course, right. But that's just what being a UFC fighter does for you.
"I ain't going to lie, I'm an attention whore," Brimage laughed on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I don't go looking for it, but if it finds me, I'll bask in it. I'll do that."
Since moving from his native Birmingham to the more MMA-savvy coastal paradise of Coconut Creek, FL, that recognition has come more readily, and Brimage certainly won't be the first one to complain.
For a 27-year-old child of the South who grew up idolizing the violent exploits of Rampage Jackson, the transition from fan to fighter has been a surreal ride. So even if his childhood hero is now his coworker, Brimage still regards himself as Jackson's "number-one fan."
"As a fighter and as a person, you do want to feel appreciated," Brimage hesitantly explained.
"Quinton ‘Rampage' Jackson is a name. He's an OG in MMA, everybody knows that. He's up there with Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture; he's up there with those guys because he's been in it for so long. And he just doesn't feel like he's appreciated, which sucks. I appreciate everything he's done for the sport. I appreciate his fighting style. It sucks that he feels like that, but I'm still his biggest fan, and whatever he does, I'm going to support it."
In the interim, Brimage has his own battles to worry about. After roaring through his first career UFC victory in December, "The Bama Beast" is slated to meet Maximo Blanco for his sophomore effort this Saturday, in the opening fight of UFC 145.
A highly-regarded bruiser and former King of Pancrase, Blanco is a tall task for someone so young in the sport. But while it's easy to get lost in Brimage's whirlwind of quips and personality, behind the act is a fighter supremely confident in his abilities, and one that believes the move out east has done wonders to revamp his game.
"It's going to be ‘Fight of the Night,' slash, ‘Knockout of the Night,'" Brimage promised.
"You're going to see a different Marcus Brimage. I hooked up with this boxing gym and I'm punching 30-percent harder. So, like that Stephen Bass fight, I was hitting him with everything I've got, and he just wouldn't go down. I was like, ‘what the hell is wrong with him.' But this time it ain't going to be the case. If I hit you with the boom-ping-ping, you're going to fall now."
Brimage admits he "didn't know anything" about Blanco before signing on the dotted line, though now that he's been studying his opponent, he likes what he sees.
"He's a very aggressive guy, always moving forward, swinging heavy haymakers, blast double wrestling. He doesn't let up," Brimage mulled.
"Most of the Japanese fighters he fought against were probably pretty scared of him, but that ain't going to be the case with me. Like I said, we're going to go ahead and start this party off right."
With the toughest test of his career staring him right in the eye, it's somewhat telling to hear Brimage speak so loosely. After all, it's not like he's trying legitimize his spot in the world's largest MMA promotion.
Besides, the pressure is the fun part. Brimage is well-aware that people are scrambling to Atlanta to see the most contentious UFC title match in recent memory, not to watch him fight Maximo Blanco. But those same people are still going to be inside the Philips Arena, and when it's all said and done, Brimage is going to make sure they remember his name.
After that's taken care of, only then can his switch flip back from fighter-mode to fan-mode. And you'd better believe the southerner is betting his two cents on a good, old-fashioned upset.
"I'm going for Rashad," Brimage declared.
"Right now he's the only person that knows Jon Jones' game in-and-out. Like he said in Primetime, he's moved on from Greg Jackson's, and Jon Jones is still doing Greg Jackson's stuff. He saw Jon Jones from when he first entered the MMA scene until now."
"So if Rashad can try to get on the inside, we know he's got knockout power."