It has been nine years since Mike Brown’s last fight in New England.
In that time he’s risen from relative unknown to world champion in the sport of mixed martial arts.
He’s gone from teaching self-defense seminars to police officers for $25 a head to help cover his own training costs to coaching aspiring professionals at one of the world’s top MMA gyms.
At age 37 the kid from Standish who won a state wrestling title at Bonny Eagle High in 1992 sees the end of his fighting career getting closer by the day.
“I’m old. I’m definitely the oldest lighter weight fighter in the UFC,” Brown said.
But he isn’t finished. The passion that fueled him during his efficiency-apartment, hot-plate cooking days is still strong.
“You do feel like a bit of a gladiator sometimes when you walk out to the bright lights and 10 or 15,000 people are going crazy,” Brown said. “It’s quite the rush and there’s a lot on the line. Money is on the line. Your manhood, your ego, they’re on the line. And your health. You can really get hurt.”
It is close to 15 months and one neck surgery to fuse two vertebrae at the base of his neck since Brown experienced that rush in a three-round unanimous decision victory over Daniel Pineda at UFC 146 in Las Vegas.
Prior to the Pineda fight, Brown was giving serious thought to retiring. Instead, shortly after the victory he signed a five-fight agreement with the UFC.
“I don’t think I’ll fight five more times but I performed great in my last fight and felt good and had fun in there,” Brown said. “That’s my gauge. As long as I’m having fun.”
Brown gets back into the octagon Aug. 17 against Steven Siler as part of UFC on Fox Sports 1 at the TD Garden in Boston. The UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is regarded as the world’s premier MMA organization.
“He wanted one more fight. I have a lot of respect for the guy,” said the UFC president, Dana White. “He was a champion. He wanted one more fight and we’re going to give it to him.”
Brown enters with a 26-8 record and the distinction of being the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) featherweight (145-pound) champion.
Brown was 6-2 in WEC bouts, including two successful defenses of his featherweight title. At the time the WEC was owned by Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC, and was the top organization for lighter weight fighters. In October 2010 the two outfits merged under the UFC banner.
The bout against Siler will be Brown’s fifth straight with the UFC. Siler, 26, originally from Anaheim, Calif., is 22-10 and five inches taller than the 5-foot-6 Brown.
Brown was originally scheduled to fight Akira Corassani of Sweden. No matter his opponent, he’ll make $30,000 to show up and another $30,000 to win, with the chance of additional bonuses.
“The thing is you make the most money you’ve ever made at the end of your career. Every time you fight it’s usually the most money you’ve ever made,” Brown said. “For me, if I win, it will be the most money I’ve ever made.”
SUPPORT IN THE EARLY DAYS
Cape Elizabeth police detective Paul Fenton, a trained defensive tactics instructor, jumped on the MMA fan bandwagon at a time when mainstream media thought the sport barbaric, the average person didn’t know UFC from UFO, and most states — Maine included — refused to sanction fights.
But Fenton, 40, could see it was gaining traction. He also figured “there were going to be both good guys and bad guys who practiced MMA,” and law enforcement better learn the basics, too.
Brown was serving as an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Southern Maine after competing collegiately at Norwich. He was in the fledgling stages of his own MMA career.
“He was trying to make some money to pay for his own training,” Fenton said. “We approached Mike about instructing us in wrestling. That was 12-plus years ago.”
Fenton and Brown now consider themselves brothers, bound by MMA, their Maine roots and, according to Fenton, Brown’s intense loyalty.
“Mike was just such a genuine guy. We bonded and then we became great friends,” Fenton said. “I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the evolution of Mike’s career but Mike never changed.”
It was Fenton who organized the seminar, with police officers paying $25 each to help Brown earn some extra cash. At the time Brown was living in a small apartment and commuting regularly to the Boston area to get better training as he fought in low-budget shows in places like Revere and Swansea, Mass.
The sport was just beginning to take off. Rules were ever-changing and the fighters themselves were often a mystery, coming from diverse martial arts background.
“The beginning of the sport was really nuts. That’s what made me fall in love with it,” Brown said. “At first the UFC really only had two rules: no biting, no eye-gouging.
“It took a lot more (courage) to fight then. Literally you could end up fighting a ninja. It was the fear of the unknown.”
Brown won nine of his first 10 fights against an array of now mostly forgotten fighters. Then he lost back-to-back fights in 2004, the second to the current UFC star, Joe Lauzon of Brockton, Mass.
That fight would be his last in New England and signaled an important career change.
A FRIEND TO OTHERS
Since 2005 Brown has lived in Boca Raton, Fla., a short drive from the American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek.
Divorced many years ago, Brown lives with his girlfriend of three years. He does not have children. His mother, Kimberly McGowan, died early in his MMA career.
His connection to Maine is primarily through visits with close friends like Fenton and regular conversations with his stepfather, Mike Emmons of Saco, and his former high school wrestling coach, Ted Reese.
In an hour-long phone interview between twice-a-day training sessions, Brown said it was necessary for him to move from Maine to advance in his sport.
“Back then MMA wasn’t even legal in Maine so there was very little of it up there,” Brown said. “American Top Team offered me a chance to train. It’s one of the best gyms in the world and I’ve been there ever since. Now I’m starting to coach some of the younger pros.”
Brown took his newfound skills to Tokyo, winning two of his three fights.
Then he went on a 10-match winning streak that spanned three years and included a win in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and his upset TKO win over Urijah Faber to claim the WEC featherweight crown.
He defended his title twice, the second time with a convincing rematch win against Faber.
Fenton is one of the seven members of the Combat Sports Authority of Maine, which oversees the state’s increasingly popular MMA shows as well as boxing promotions.
He was asked if he thinks Brown is given enough credit for his accomplishments.
“I think some people do. The sport’s still growing,” Fenton said. “Now people have the understanding a little more about how successful he has been.”
In many ways, Brown is still a fan at heart. He is excited by front-row seats to MMA fights, perks like riding in a limousine from the airport, and has a video library of every UFC show. Fenton said his friend is still a little surprised that anyone would ask for his autograph.
As Brown’s career was spiraling upward, one of his favorite sayings was, “We’re doing it. We’re doing it,” Fenton said.
Fenton said his friend is still driving “a crappy Ford Focus” that smells of gym sweat and that Brown’s Florida home is often used as a rent-free flophouse for fledgling fighters new to the American Top Team gym. Where other fighters often resell their allotment of tickets at raised prices with the cost of a T-shirt added on, Brown complains he can’t get his friends free seats and gives his T-shirts away.
“He’s done very well for himself. He’s just a very frugal guy. He’s a Mainer and that’s a part of Mike that we love,” Fenton said.
Since the WEC-UFC merger, injuries and losses in his first two UFC fights stalled Brown’s career.
But consecutive wins has Brown thinking positively. He knows another title shot is probably not in his future “but that’s always what you strive for, what drives you. You always set goals and right now I just want to put a streak together. I’ve won two straight and I want to make it three. Then make new goals.”
As both the upcoming fight and the inevitable end of a long career get closer, Fenton said Brown has tweaked his favorite saying.
“Now he’s saying, ‘We’re still doing it. We’re still doing it.’ “
Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at: