Brian Foster has never been one for nicknames, but after a dozen years competing as a professional fighter a good one might be “Fact or Fiction.” That’s because the one thing most fans know about him was that he was let go from the UFC after something showed up on his brain scan nearly eight years ago, which spooked officials from any association. That part is fact. That he had corrective brain surgery and returned and fight 16 more times heading into his encounter in PFL on Thursday night against Ramsey Nijem is, of course, fiction.
No mortal person has brain surgery and returns to exchange punches with another man for money. Somewhere along the way, people got confused about Foster’s journey. A lot of people remain confused. Foster himself suspects its because one of his testicles got exploded during a sparring session, and that by extension made the news cycle go a little nuts.
“That’s the craziest shit about the whole thing, it was a phantom problem,” Foster told MMA Fighting. “It cost me. It was the biggest headache and the biggest hammer to my bank account I’ve ever had in my life. You know what the most confusing part of it was? I got kneed in the nuts in 2010, and I had to have surgery to have my nut removed. Three weeks later or some shit after my scar’s healed up, and I’m able to fit it back in my cup again, I go back to training. I’d just given an interview about the testicle, I don’t remember who it was, but then I go get the MRI done and they found the concussion or what the f*ck ever.
“So the fact that I had testicle surgery got overtossed through the cycle of communication, and it turns out that some people think that I had brain surgery or something. You’ve got to be crazy…if you had brain surgery and then go back and fight, you’re begging for it. I love my life too much.”
Foster is a one-ball fighter who cusses as breezily as most people breathe, yet remains a bit of a marvel at 34 years old. The brain situation hung a cautionary label on him, but he’s persevered through that long before he hashtags were invented for #FakeNews. He went in for an MRI on a Thursday after a hard sparring session the day prior at his former gym, the Hit Squad and…“sure as shit, a fresh concussion, and they tripped out about it,” he says.
“They thought something was up. They thought I might have been leaking fluid onto my brain, and if that’s the case they would have done surgery. But once they done the second MRI, they couldn’t find it anymore. They said, these things don’t heal, and I said, well there you go.”
That was enough for the UFC to part ways with him, but he was only getting started. Foster fought in Combat MMA against Daniel Roberts, spent time in Victory and other promotions, made his way to WSOF for seven fights, and met Jon Fitch in Daytona last June for a crack at the PFL welterweight title.
Now as a single dad, he’s been through financial ruin, 10 different losses, and the birth of four children, the oldest which came along when he was a teenager. His brother died in his arms back in 2006, an incredibly tragic thing to happen which he has used as fuel to overcome each and every setback he’s encountered. What the former UFC fighter Ramsey will face Thursday in Chicago is one of the most resilient fighters in MMA history, a rugged never-quit country boy who has gravel in his guts.
“Yeah, the fire was a blaze when my brother died,” he says. “I didn’t have much control of it. You can hear Bas [Rutten] and Randy [Couture] and all these guys that commentate my fights: ‘It seems like Foster’s only got one gear.’ And that’s the truth. That’s the rage. That’s the fighter in me that wants to get it done. I think that’s I’ve lost so many times. I get submitted getting caught up so much in the aggression and the fire.”
Foster’s latest loss came against Fitch, and nobody takes his losses more philosophically than old “Fact or Fiction” Foster. Foster says he was trying to overcome a torn ACL in that particular fight, which he eventually succumbed in via a third-round side choke. It was another lesson in a sport forever willing to cough them up.
“I’ve never lost twice in a row, and I’ve never lost the same way twice — things that would indicate the end,” he says. “I’ve lost every way there is to lose, but I’ve never lost the same way twice.”
For the last few years, the Midwestern born Foster has trained at the X Factor in Colorado. The Nijem fight is the first of the season for Foster under his new league’s structure, which — by using a compilation of points and seeding — he believes is tailor-made for him. What he loves the most is that the PFL is designed to make fighters — true fighters, the ones without metaphor — stand out above the rest.
“A fighter is a one-man team. It’s like a season of football. We have a season, we have a playoffs and we have a championship, the same way,” he says. “The thing of beauty about is that is that when you win the season, you don’t get to sit at the top of the mountain and wait for people to come to you. You’ve got to work your ass off back through the mix.
“You can half ass it and be a champion. That’s where you get comfortable, and the hungry guy always wins. The thing about this shit you’ve to stay hungry the whole way through. The true fighter’s going to come out at the end of it.”
It will be a return to his home state of Illinois since he made an ill-fated kickboxing cameo against Raymond Daniels at Glory 11 in Hoffman Estates in 2013. Foster lost that fight spectacularly, via a spinning heel kick in the first round. It’s why he says he “has some shit to prove” on his return to the area.
At this point, at 27-10, and having perplexed every MRI machine he’s encountered along the way since defeating Matt Brown in his last UFC fight, Foster says the primary goal is a world championship. That would be the perfect endnote on a career that has encountered more turbulence than he could have ever prepared for. When asked how he’s able to dust himself off time and again and keep fighting, he makes it seem incredibly simple.
“I have to. I’m a dad. I’ve got eyes watching me,” he says.
When asked to be more specific about his preternatural resolve, he says it’s from inventorying all the time spent away from his kids while pursuing his dream. To make sure it all pays off.
“It came from not wanting all the time I’ve put into it to be wasted,” he says. “All the sacrifices I did, all the time away from my family, all the holidays, and birthdays and football games and baseball games I missed, everything, just being wasted over something stupid like an injury that can be overcome. I’m not going to let anyone or anything stop me from doing what I need to do.”
Foster is more than happy to be fighting in the PFL, and he praises everything about the league’s treatment of its fighters — yet there’s a feistiness at the back of it all that, which shows up in the form of a chip on his shoulder from the way it all went down. From back when the UFC cut him, and he spend thousands of dollars trying to prove his brain was okay.
“I tell my friends all the time that, man, it would be spectacular to go in and have a conversation with Dana [White], just to look at him and say ‘I told you motherf*cker,’” he says. “It was one of them deals, he told me it was over. He just couldn’t do it for me, the UFC couldn’t do it for me back in the day, that I was just too much of an insurance liability. I’m not that guy, I write the pages. You ain’t going to end my shit, I’ll find a way.”
“As much as I’d like to have that conversation with Dana, this Pro Fighting League is taking care of me, man,” he says. “They’ve stuck with me. I truly believe that once people catch onto this format it could create problems for them other organizations. Athletes are getting paid what they’re worth over here with these cats, and they actually have to fight. If they don’t fight, there are consequences to that. You can’t fake an injury, get your check and walk. The real fighter will get his hand raised. And in December of this year you’ll see a true fighter standing in front of everybody.”
Fact and fiction, a tale of Brian Foster, a mean SOB who just keeps showing up. He sees a “tough ass fight” in Ramsey, but has been around long enough not to blow promotional smoke just for the sake of it.
“He’s a gamer for sure — the problem is there’s certain fighters he’s faced with that kill switch, and [against them] he hasn’t done so well,” he says. “I’m that guy that puts an exclamation point on every sentence I start. The kid’s good, he’s funny, and he’s a character who’s been through it. There’s no easy fights in this for any of these, but my goal is five fights, five finishes.”
As for all that has happened to him, from his brother’s passing to the testicle he sacrificed to the Muay Thai gods to the “phantom” brain injury that derailed his career and delivered him to PFL?
He takes it in stride.
“I’m happy to talk about it, because for these kids competing, you’ve got to take that head trauma and the sparring super serious,” he says. “And when it comes to the MRIs, don’t spar before you go do that. Don’t take any contact. Because even a mild concussion can show up and be something they don’t understand.”
Perhaps it was wasn’t as black and white as fact or fiction, but like everything else, the gray matter in between. One thing is certain: Foster has made the most of the hands he has been dealt, and a misunderstanding wasn’t going to do him in.
“Misunderstanding? That shattered my career pretty much,” he says. “I was on a good path. I finally found my stride in the UFC, but to be perfectly honest I’m thankful and content. The path I had to go through, and showing people not to give up…you know how many people would have went through a quarter of the shit I went through would have given up? I feel good that I’m still around. It’s a huge statement to my son’s, and their own futures as athletes.”