In mixed martial arts, there is little personal discovery to be found until the limits of a comfort zone are left behind. Adversity comes in many forms, and once the pressure is applied, the reality of what a fighter can and can’t handle comes front and center. And while every man will eventually stumble under the bright lights, the refusal to break forges something unique that can be used when needed.
The Rust Belt is a place where luxuries come few and far between, and Matt Brown is no stranger to fighting for more out of life. Industry forgotten and sustained despite hardship served as the backdrop to his humble upbringing in Central Ohio, and those conditions provided an early education to the Columbus native.
Nothing was given to him—only earned—and The Immortal has spent the past decade constantly pressing to evolve from the foundation those tough times provided.
You can see glimpses of his hard-scrabble past in his hard-charging style inside the Octagon, as the 34-year-old welterweight’s aggressive attack and relentless pursuit of victory have made him a staple in one of the most talent-stacked divisions in the UFC.
Just as it takes going through dark times to make great jazz music, you don’t fight the way Brown fights unless putting everything on the line has been a common practice.
Yet, his personal search revolves around more than being a successful fighter. He’s willing to push himself to great lengths because he knows that’s where he’ll learn more about what he’s capable of. And therein lies the greatest source of motivation for the scrappy knockout artist.
It’s not about money, fame or the thrills of competing at the highest level of MMA; it’s about the test and finding what exists each time he crosses the battle lines.
“There is no question you are what your habits are,” Brown told Bleacher Report. “You are a product of what you do on a daily basis. When you go through a lot of adversity as a youth or a young adult, overcoming that adversity becomes a habit. It becomes familiar to you.
“On the flip side, some people take a different path and spend their lives making excuses for not overcoming it and making their lives better. One of my favorite lyrics is from a Hatebreed song that says, ‘It’s our struggles that define us.’ I say it all the time. It’s a perfect quote and the perfect way to say it because how you deal with adversity makes you who you are.
“Everybody can be a happy and wonderful person every day of their life when things are going great. Now let’s take some of that away and see what kind of person you are. I try to define myself every single day by not allowing the down side of things bring me down and get to me.”
While some people need additional incentive to face life’s challenges, Brown’s determination to push forward is farmed from within. His growth requires no outside catalyst for his drive because he knows tests and trials will come every day.
For Brown, the quest for personal definition is always the primary driving force. He also believes answers can only be found after the truly difficult questions are asked.
“I’m a self-motivated individual,” Brown said. “I’m not exactly sure why it is that way, but I never have a hard time finding motivation. I talk to a lot of people about what they want out of this sport. What are you doing every day and what motivates you? What brings you to this sport? Why do you want to this and not go out and get a college degree and be an accountant or something?
“For me personally, the thing I want out of the sport is what motivates me. The answer to this question is all I need for motivation. If your motivation is money, women or fame, that’s where people find a lack of motivation because those aren’t real authentic things that can inspire you every day.”
Brown has spent the majority of the past three years riding a wave of momentum, but his next showing inside the Octagon will come with different circumstances attached. He rose to contention in the 170-pound ranks on the strength of a seven-fight winning streak but will enter his showdown with Tim Means at UFC 189 on Saturday, July 11 having lost back-to-back fights.
The amount of talent in the upper tier of the welterweight fold creates an environment where there is little room for error, and a third consecutive setback would likely cost Brown his place in the coveted Top 10 of the divisional rankings. He’s well-aware of the situation, but at the same time, he’s approaching it with his signature tenacity on full blast.
He knows Dirty Bird will come to throw down at UFC 189, but he also sees the Albuquerque-based fighter threatening to undo all the work he invested to climb back from the brink of obscurity and surge up the welterweight ladder to become a certified threat to the 170-pound title.
“If I don’t walk out of this fight with my hand raised, I’ve dropped a lot of what I’ve worked for over the past few years,” Brown said. “I’m not saying that is going to happen, but it’s the fight game and that is a real possibility. That said, I’m not going to focus on making that happen. I’m going to focus on what I need to do today to make that happen. I’m going to focus on being the best I can be, and let’s hope that is enough to beat Tim Means. I truly believe it will be.
“[Tim Means] is a scrappy dude. I think he’s a little underrated, and I really don’t know exactly what he’s capable of. I don’t think he’s shown the best he can be yet, and I’m probably going to bring the best out of him. This is a huge opportunity for him, and I think we are going to see the best Tim Means, and I’m going to bring the best Matt Brown, so we’ll see what happens.
“Every time I fight, I’m motivated to go out there and do what I gotta do, but when you lose, it puts a little more kick in your ass and tells you there’s something you aren’t doing right,” he added. “You have to go after it a little harder, and what really defines a person is how they deal with struggles and adversity. I want to go out there and define myself next weekend.”
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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