Even as the headliner, Matt Brown gets little respect
He has quite the ominous nickname. "The Immortal." But Matt Brown's persona does not resonate with such daunting drama. A quiet professional who dutifully, if destructively, goes about his business, he could just as well be typecast with the throwaway moniker "The Immaterial."
On Saturday night, in his 17th UFC go, Brown will headline one of the company's cards for the first time, taking on Erick Silva at a Fight Night event in Cincinnati (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). He's an Ohio native who still lives in Columbus. He's riding a six-fight win streak, with five of those victories coming by knockout. If ever there's a time for Matt Brown to feel the warmth of the spotlight, this is it.
Yet as the weekend approaches, the UFC theater company has cast the softspoken welterweight as a minor character while writing all of the juicy lines for performers like Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor. The Irish featherweight, whose next fight -- just his third in the big leagues -- is still two months away, is being hyped with enough hot air to fly a balloon all the way from Dublin to the UFC Hall of Fame. As for the lightweight from the 209 area code, he sure is getting a lot of attention for a guy who isn't even ranked in the promotion's Top 15.
How overlooked is Matt Brown? The 33-year-old (18-11), who got into this game nine years ago and took his lumps -- four losses in five fights --- just prior to going on the winning streak, is No. 10 in the SI.com welterweight rankings. (He also appears in the official UFC rankings, but we're paying no heed to them now that the promotion has manipulated the media-voted tally as part of its negotiation/dispute with the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Diaz.)
Brown's opponent, Silva (16-4, 1 NC), is unranked with a checkerboard resume -- win, loss, win, loss, win, loss -- over the last two years. Yet the Brazilian is a 2-1 betting favorite.
Does that bother Brown? Maybe. Does he feel pressure to make a statement to raise his profile in the 170-pound pecking order? Perhaps. Does he have his sights set on a title fight? One would think.
Brown doesn't talk about that stuff. "I have only one goal," he told SI.com earlier this week, "and that's to be the best I can be in beating Erick Silva."
One suspects he didn't enlist Chael Sonnen or the ghost of P.T. Barnum to help him concoct such razor-sharp fight hype blather.
Why Brown is the way he is might directly relate to his fight resume. Asked how it's possible for the same man to get submitted four times during a 20-month stretch, then start knocking out everyone set in front of him, he hemmed and hawed for a bit before settling on the generic "There are many things I could point to." Such as? "It would be a long story," he said. "There's no way to make that a short answer. I'd have to write a book."
Eventually, after more prodding, the Cliffs Notes story line emerges. "Mental things," said Brown. "Problems with focus."
So now Brown is purposely shortsighted, keeping his eyes fixed on only the very next episode of his fight career. He's not interested in long-term plot twists. There's no sentimentality, even, about taking the stage in front of hometown scenery. "It's the same as fighting anywhere," he insisted.
Really? The packed building making noise for you and only you means nothing? "That's great for after the fight, when the festivities start and you get to hang out with all of your friends and family, enjoy yourself," said Brown. "But during the fight I try to block the noise out of my mind. If anything, it's probably going to pump [Silva] up. In my personal experience, having the crowd against you does more than having the crowd for you."
Not that Silva needs any pumping up. All four of his UFC wins have been first-round stoppages, and his explosiveness showed even in one of his losses, when he was disqualified for strikes to the back of the head as he was in the process of stopping Carlo Prater in half a minute. The book on the 29-year-old from the Espírito Santo state in southeastern Brazil is that he explodes from the start but implodes if he doesn't finish quickly.
Brown has the patience to abide. He's certainly shown that outside the cage, as his ascent in the welterweight division has been slowed by circumstances outside a fighter's control. After a 29-second KO of Mike Pyle last August -- he certainly wasn't patient that night -- Brown was scheduled to face then-No. 2 contender Carlos Condit in a fight that could have boosted him to the top rung of the ladder. But he injured his back in training camp, the December bout was canceled, and now Brown gets to tangle with hot-blooded danger without the cache of a king-of-the-hill showdown looming. "When the UFC calls me to fight someone, I never question it," he said. "I fight."
That's the mindset Brown carries with him into the octagon. He's been in deep waters and survived, not always unscathed but ceaselessly pressing forward. Harkening back to four years ago, when he was mired in a losing run, Brown doesn't judge the fighter he was back then any more readily than he will the make a final assessment of what he's become. "Every day I go to the gym, I walk out a better fighter than when I walked in," he said. "So, yeah, I hope I'm dramatically better now than I was in 2010. And in another three or four years I'll be a dramatically better fighter than I am now. Or I'm not doing my job."