UFC

Matt Brown's career comeback

Matt Brown gets his first top-10 opponent in Tarec Saffedine.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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Within the last week, UFC president Dana White gave welterweight Matt Brown a new nickname, “Mr. FOX,” a sobriquet earned after two main-card slots on network TV and a third on the newly launched FOX Sports 1. Brown, though, would rather be known as something else: UFC champion. That we can even consider that a possibility is a turnaround in line with some of the great, unforeseen comebacks in sports.

Think back to Nov. 2011, after Brown had lost to Seth Baczynski, marking losses in four of his last five fights. At the time, it was no sure thing he’d even have a job to return to. Many, it should be pointed out, have been cut from the UFC for less. Brown’s method of chaotic competition, though, had always appealed to company brass. Stick him on a card and you might not be guaranteed a win, but entertainment would almost surely follow. With an average of 12 fights per event, his value was in his style.

But an unexpected thing happened on the way to amusing the masses. Brown started winning. And winning. And knocking people out in the process. Six victories in a row now after adding the respected veteran Mike Pyle to his resume during Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen.

“I’ll fight whoever they want me to, man, but I’m only in the sport for one thing and that’s to beat GSP’s ass,” he said afterward.

As callouts go, his challenge of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre wasn’t exactly direct, and his words didn’t exactly set the fight world abuzz with anticipation, but it did make it clear that his bandwagon keeps slowly adding passengers as it stops at each station. It’s almost as if many are still in a state of disbelief about the whole thing, and only now coming around, but who can blame them? There may not be a more unlikely contender in the modern UFC era. From near-.500 journeyman on the verge of being cut to closing in on a title shot in less than two years? Unheard of.

“Under the radar” doesn’t even do his turnaround justice. To get to this point, Brown did the equivalent of crawling face-down through a field of mud, swimming through a moat of alligators and climbing over a gate of barbed wire. Right about now, he’s breaking into the backdoor of the fortress while the guards are sleeping.

St-Pierre has his attention elsewhere as he prepares for a Nov. 16 date with Johny Hendricks at UFC 167, so Brown isn’t likely to earn a title shot anytime soon. Besides, there are at least a couple others, like Rory MacDonald and maybe Demian Maia, that are above him in the rankings. But that list is surprisingly short, and dwindling.

A streak of six straight is something only one other UFC welterweight contender can match: the aforementioned Hendricks. No one else can boast that, so Brown has a ready-made argument in his favor. On the flip side, he has not beaten a top 10 opponent during his run, and that’s not easy to overlook, either.

Beyond those hard facts, it’s the overall contrast between St-Pierre and Brown that makes the possibility of a matchup between them intriguing. They are the antithesis of each other. St-Pierre is polished and cautious and strategic; Brown is raw and unpredictable and spontaneous. In other words, he’s a fighter, not a martial artist. Brown has no image to create or protect, he just wants to whoop some ass. That makes him something of a throwback, an enormously attractive quality to anyone looking for an alternative to a champion that comes across to some as too corporate.

There are many who doubt Brown’s chances against St-Pierre, and to be honest, he would likely be considered a major underdog if the fight ever transpired. He hasn’t faced someone with GSP’s wrestling acumen in ages, and his resume lacks a signature win that suggests he will live up to the biggest moment of his career. But the thing about Brown is that he doesn’t care about where or how the fight gets contested; he just wants to be in the middle of it.

How Brown would do against St-Pierre is almost besides the point, anyway. That he is even in the conversation is its own achievement, and one worth celebrating. For Brown, it’s not quite enough. He’ll still have some more work to do to get to GSP, and you get the feeling that he’ll be punching and kicking someone else until he does.

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