Nobody will forget the triumphs of Rose Namajunas, T.J. Dillashaw, and Georges St-Pierre as they toppled their adversaries to put championship gold around their waists in the UFC’s return to New York City, but a preliminary welterweight bout between Brown and Mickey Gall also had less obvious title implications.
Both Brown and Gall were signed after appearing on UFC president Dana White’s Lookin’ for a Fight series — a project created with the intention of finding bright prospects to compete inside the Octagon — and when Brown defeated Gall by unanimous decision on Saturday, it gave him a unique achievement of which to boast. Gall had previously defeated Sage Northcutt, the first fighter to make a name for himself on White’s reality show, so Brown now sees himself as the best of that trio of young fighters.
“I need to,” Brown joked during an appearance on The MMA Hour on Monday when asked if he would get an actual belt for beating Gall. “I’m the champ now. I’m the Lookin’ for a Fight champ.”
It was Gall who first suggested the idea of a Lookin’ for a Fight title in the buildup to his match with Brown, one of several talking points that Gall brought up to hype their encounter. The brash Gall also mentioned that he’d previously gotten the better of his fellow Tri-State Area fighter when they’d grappled in the past.
Brown complimented Gall on his strong ground game, but felt that the gap in MMA experience between them was a major reason he was able to beat Gall at UFC 217.
“I know that he’s good because I grappled with him. I know he’s talented,” Brown said. “But there’s levels and there’s steps that I had to take to get here. I’ve been grinding my whole life. I’ve slept on mats, I’ve been grinding. I’ve lost fights, I defended my title as a champion on the local scene. I’ve been doing this, I’ve been through it. He hasn’t paid no dues, he ain’t do none of that. There’s levels.”
Making the win even more satisfying for Brown was the fact that he was booed before the fight despite being the only New York-based fighter competing at the Madison Square Garden show. Brown chalked it up to the people from his part of town not being able to afford tickets, an economic reality that Brown himself is all too familiar with.
The 27-year-old Queens-representative was born in Springfield, Mass., but found himself moving to Jamaica while still a toddler due to his mother being deported. Asked why this happened, Brown only offered that his family was living “a certain lifestyle.”
There, Brown grew up on “captured land”, which he compared to squatting, and he and his family had to find creative ways to acquire basic amenities like clean water.
“You go and you just build a house on a piece of land or something, so it was like a little community, a house here, a house there, house there, house there, but there was a pipe that came on one time everyday for about 30 minutes,” Brown said. “Like down the hill, way down the hill. And we used to go down and catch water, walk back up the hill, so you’ll see people going down, catching water, and coming back up.”
“It’s just part of life, it’s just what it is,” Brown continued. “But Jamaica’s beautiful. I love Jamaica. I wouldn’t trade Jamaica for anything in the world.”
Brown eventually made his way back to the United States where he trained as a boxer, eventually becoming interested in MMA after watching B.J. Penn decimate Joe Stevenson in bloody fashion at UFC 80. He emerged as a standout in the Ring of Combat promotion, going 5-0 to start his pro career before being spotted by White at a show in Atlantic City, N.J.
Though he was told that White was in attendance, Brown didn’t let the news change his approach that night.
“For me, it was more go and do what you do and if you do what you do you’ll be noticed,” Brown said. “I just knew because I was just finishing people back-to-back, I was just getting crazy finishes at that time and I was like nobody can stop me, I don’t care who they put in front of me.
“If I think ‘Dana White, Dana White’ then I have stress to perform and do something out of character. But I didn’t think about any of that and I just focused on the fight, I focused on doing me as best as I could and I knew wholeheartedly that I would be noticed. And I was.”
Brown successfully defended his Ring of Combat title via first-round KO and afterwards, he let White know he was ready to step up to the next level.
“I was excited. At the time, that was probably the highlight of my career,” Brown said of meeting White. “I came backstage and he was like, ‘Hey man, I’m interested.’ And I was telling him, ‘I’m brash. I can light this division up, just give me a chance.’ And he was like, ‘I’m interested, let’s do it.’ Then he gave me a call maybe like a month later.”
Now, Brown holds a 4-2 record in UFC competition and he’s looking to climb the ranks. Pushed to name a possible opponent, he picked out Neil Magny, who is set to face Carlos Condit at UFC 219, but he sees himself matching up well with almost anyone in the division.
He may not have received the immediate attention that Gall and Northcutt did, but after his latest win Brown is arguably the most accomplished of the three so far and he has no ill feelings towards Gall or anyone else who doubted him; if anything, Brown believes his MMA career has gone exactly as it should.
“The way Sage blew up from the show, I thought it would be just like that, but it’s very different. It’s very different than people think,” Brown said. “My path is very different from Sage’s path. My path is very different from Mickey’s path. I had the realest path. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I fought real competition and I’m sticking to that. It makes me a better fighter. A real fighter.”