Home Sports Matt Brown didn’t realize what his UFC career meant to people — until it was over

Matt Brown didn’t realize what his UFC career meant to people — until it was over

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Matt Brown, left, throws a punch at Robbie Lawler during the fifth round of a welterweight mixed martial arts fight at a UFC on Fox event in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, July 26, 2014. Lawler won by decision unanimous. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Matt Brown didn’t think his retirement would be a big deal. That’s why he postponed any type of public announcement. He had already told the UFC, which seemed like the important part. He supposed he should say something publicly, just to make it known, but he didn’t expect much of a response.

“I was literally at my daughter’s soccer game,” Brown told Yahoo Sports. “She had a doubleheader, and between the two games I was sitting there and thought, ‘oh yeah, I need to make some Instagram post about this.’ Apparently that’s what makes it official, not when I called UFC like a month before. So I found a photo that looked good for a retirement position and I didn’t really think about it beyond that.”

Soon he was sitting in the sun, watching his daughter in the second game, when his phone turned on. The buzzes, the notifications, the text messages. One after another until the phone was about to overheat in his hand.

“I guess it was a little naïve of me, but I thought, ‘damn, do people really give a shit?’” Brown said. “Honestly, it made my eyes water a little.”

For combatants, retreating can be a bit like eavesdropping on their own funerals. Suddenly, everyone has nothing but nice things to say. Your faults are forgiven and your triumphs are magnified. People who once seemed indifferent or even hostile realize that they will really miss you now that you are gone. Once the story is over, everyone has a chance to step back and see it in its entirety.

Brown had one of those UFC careers that can’t be easily explained with statistics or accomplishments. His overall professional record of 24-19 looks unremarkable on paper. He never won or fought for a UFC title. If you don’t follow the sport, his 15-year stay in the UFC probably only seems notable for his longevity.

But MMA is one of those sports where it’s not just about wins and losses. What Brown brought to a UFC event was the near guarantee of a certain type of fight. He was the archetype of the tough, aggressive welterweight who fought like he was allergic to taking a step back. He hit hard and often. Hitting him back only seemed to anger him.

The opponents always knew they were in for a tough night’s work when they accepted the fight, just as the fans always knew they wanted to be in their seats when Brown walked to the cage. His was a career built on blood and determination. Turns out people noticed and appreciated him for it.

Matt Brown (24-19, 16 KOs) decided to hang up his gloves after a 19-year professional MMA career. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

That was a pleasant surprise for Brown, as was the UFC video package commemorating his time in the cage. The decision to retire was a process that unfolded slowly, Brown said. He has been less active as a wrestler in recent years. His focus has gradually moved elsewhere as he becomes more involved in managing his gym and various real estate projects. He hoped to fight Jim Miller at UFC 300 and maybe leave it there, he said. When the fight didn’t materialize, he felt some of his passion for the sport fade.

“That’s when I thought I’d just retire,” Brown said. “(The UFC) made me an offer shortly after that, but I just wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t seem like a difficult process. My mind was already on the next steps of my life. To be honest, it felt very natural.”

There are parts of the wrestler’s life he will miss, Brown admitted. The emotion. The nerves. Even the fear, that feeling of living on the edge of the knife.

“I’ll probably miss that feeling of being in fight mode more than anything,” Brown said. “Six, eight or ten weeks of pure concentration. You’re kind of zoned out from the entire world. You are not worried about the stress of life, or business, or anything else. I mean, you still have to take care of your family, but they will support you on that journey. It’s a very simple life, man. You have a job, a focus.”

There are other parts you won’t miss, like the uncertainty inherent in a fighter’s entire existence. You are always waiting to fight or training for a fight that, with an injury to you or your opponent, could evaporate at any moment. You spend a lot of time and money preparing, but the fight could end you the day before, even the day of, and there’s no guarantee you’ll see a single cent in payout.

When he now looks back on his career, it’s not just the marquee victories that stand out. His fight against Robbie Lawler, a close fight in which he lost the decision that would have propelled him into a UFC title fight with just a couple of different numbers on a couple of cards, that one stands out. Although he lost, Brown said, it was the best he had ever felt in a fight.

Then there was the previous one, where he defeated Erick Silva in a wild fight that required a lot of life in just over 12 minutes of fighting. With the news of Brown’s retirement, highlights from that fight made the rounds on social media. But what he remembers now is not just his performance or the emotion of victory, but all the people around him.

“I had more family at that fight than at my family reunion,” Brown said. “My kids were there and I was the main event, so afterward they went into the cage and took pictures and stuff. “That made it really special.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise for Brown, now that his career is over, is the extent to which his relationship with fans ended up being a two-way street. Many of them reached out over the years to tell him how inspired they were by his journey from a near-fatal heroin overdose to a career in the UFC. But as he interacted more with his fans on social media over the years, he discovered that they inspired him too.

“There were days where I felt like I needed a little extra motivation and I knew I could go on my social media and there would be people telling me good things, motivating me for the day,” Brown said. “I know a lot of wrestlers or athletes in general talk about the negativity they experience online. I didn’t really find much of that. “I’m aware of who I follow and who I block, but I’ve had really positive experiences connecting with people there.”

Standing there on the sidelines of the football game that day, his phone nearly melting from the messages of love and support that flooded in after he told the world he was done with the fighting part of his life, Brown could see that his time in the cage really meant something to the people who watched. It’s enough to make even a tough guy a little confused.

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