NEW YORK – It’s been a little over three years since former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown last stepped in the Octagon. He fought Steven Siler in Boston in his last fight on the same night that Irishman Conor McGregor made his North American debut against Max Holloway.
And in some ways that passing in the night, the loud one coming with the quiet one going, is emblematic of the times. Brown is now a coach at American Top Team who is in New York to corner Dustin Poirier in his fight with Jim Miller. He thinks that the entertainment side of fighting is more pervasive these days than it was when he was competing.
To the point that he says entertainment is catered to far more than merit.
“I think it used to be you would find it was 80 percent merit, and 20 percent entertainment/money to make the fights,” he told MMA Fighting at the UFC 208 Ultimate Media Day. “Now I think that it’s almost 80 percent money than the merit of who deserves the fight. I honestly didn’t see it coming so quickly.”
Case in point, the UFC 208 main event between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie for the inaugural featherweight title. Holm is coming off of consecutive losses as a bantamweight since defeating Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. In an earlier day, a fight like this — and the creation of a weight class to accommodate it — might not have taken place.
In 2017, matchmaking is a little harder to predict. No. 1 contenders aren’t guaranteed anything, champions are chasing money fights, and up-and-comers are sometimes elevated based on their ability to move the needle.
Brown says he “hates” the direction of that ideology.
Asked how he coaches that — both in preparing his fighters to compete to the best of their ability, as well as prime them to market themselves properly in order to transcend simple relevance — Brown said it’s difficult.
“I try and say you’ve got to get out there, but that was not something I was very good at myself, so I’m not the best guy to give advice in that department,” he said. “I used to look at this way. I remember when, in small shows coming up, promoters would ask me, ‘would you sell tickets’ or whatever, and I’d say, absolutely not. I’m the fighter, you’re the promoter, I’ll do the fighting and you be the promoter.
“But I didn’t realize how important it is. You see guys who are so good at it, you see them rewarded very well for it. So there is something to it.”
Before he started fighting as a professional, Brown wrestled at Norwich University in Vermont. He used that discipline as his bedrock for 35 professional fights, and remained a quiet, steady force for a decade through local promotions, the WEC, and eventually the UFC. His most notable wins came against Urijah Faber in the WEC in 2008-09.
Brown said he carried over the mindset that actions speak louder than words from the collegiate mats.
“It’s so in the opposite direction in the sport of wrestling,” he said. “In wrestling you’re taught to be humble, to wrestle your match, and don’t celebrate, and get out. That’s what’s been ingrained in your head for so long. And then now, it’s now you want to put on a show and be cocky.”
Still, Brown has found a second life in MMA as a coach. He cornered bantamweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her last title defense at UFC 205 in Manhattan, and has emerged as one of the notable gurus in the game. He says that the new direction of the UFC is something he’s getting used to, and that it hasn’t jaded his sense of the fight game.
“Well, I still love the sport of course, obviously,” he said. “I wish it was more merit and we knew exactly what was going on, and that if you beat this guy you’ll get this, and this will get you a title shot, or a No. 1 contender always fought for a title.
“Even the rankings are made sometimes off the popularity. It’s more about how many Instagram followers you have than your skill set.”
With over three years passed since his last fight, Brown — who has never publicly closed the door on his fighting career — said that he is officially through.
“Oh yeah, I’m done, I just never made a statement on it,” he said. “I’m 41 years old.”