Marcus Brimage was pondering whether to drop down to featherweight or stay at lightweight. But the first time he stepped into the American Top Team gym, he made up his mind.
The Birmingham, Ala. native was a fast starter in mixed martial arts, showing promise at 155 pounds. But in his first career loss, to Joey Camacho, he had been pushed around, and the thought of dropping a weight class entered his mind.
Then Brimage showed up in Coconut Creek, Fla. and met UFC lightweight Gleison Tibau, who walks around at about 185 pounds.
"That was it," said Brimage. "We shook he hands and I looked at him and I mean, he was huge. I realized right then and there that if that's how big the guys at lightweight are at the highest level, then featherweight was where I belonged."
It turned out to be a wise decision. Brimage is 2-0 in the UFC and has a chance to make a statement at UFC 152 on Saturday night when he faces unbeaten hotshot Jimy Hettes in an FX-broadcast bout at the Air Canada Centre.
"Hettes is the one with all the hype," Brimage said in a phone interview form Toronto on Tuesday night. "I know this is my opportunity to go in there and make a name for myself. If I win, they'll be talking about me."
For awhile there, it looked like Brimage was going to make a living as a professional reality show contestant. Brimage had just two pro fights under his belt when he competed in the short-lived BET series "Iron Ring," which consisted of several fight teams coached by hip-hop celebrities.
"Iron Ring, for lack of a better word, excuse my language here but it was a clusterf---," said Brimage. "It was all about the rappers and there was no thought given to the fighters. You'd get there for your fight and you would have to wait all night for the rappers to show up. Things wouldn't even get rolling until like 11:30 at night. That's no way to fight."
Still, even given his "Iron Ring" experience, Brimage didn't flinch when the opportunity to join the cast of "The Ultimate Fighter's" 11th season. For one thing, the company was looking for featherweights right at the time he was contemplating joining the division. And for another, Brimage, who served nine years in the Air National Guard and reached the rank of sergeant, wasn't about to be fazed by spending time in the TUF house.
"Being in the house didn't bug me," said Brimage. "You've got to remember, I went through basic training in the military. I've already been sequestered from my family and friends. Once you do that you can handle anything."
"And anyway, after being on ‘Iron Ring,' if anything I was impressed with how professional things were run. Things got done on time. When they said they'd do something, they did it. I had never experienced that in the fight game before."
While Brimage didn't win TUF 11, he's won both of his bouts in the UFC, taking a unanimous decision over Stephen Bass at the TUF 11 Finale and a split decision from Maximo Blanco at UFC 145.
Hettes, though represents Brimage's biggest challenge to date. The Pennsylvania native is 10-0 in his career, with nine of his victories coming by way of submission. Brimage says he's not going to try to challenge Hettes at his strength.
"Look, we've got a lot of good ground guys at ATT," Brimage said. "If it hits the ground, I'm confident I'll be able to get back to my feet. But it's not like I'm looking to go in there and trade submissions with him. He's aggressive with his submissions. I'm aggressive in my standup. We'll see how it goes Saturday night."
Until then, Brimage is taking a little time to appreciate how far he's come in a short time. There are fighters who spend years trying to catch a break, but Brimage, with just six pro fights under his belt, has twice been featured on national cable series and has two wins in the sport's biggest organization.
"I'm blessed, man," said Brimage. "I understand that. I don't take it for granted. I'm glad I've gotten my opportunity to be a part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but I'm also not content just to be here."