March 13, 2010

Yes, the king of the featherweights is a Mainer

— He had skinny legs and a pronounced fondness for Twinkies. During his freshman season on the Bonny Eagle wrestling team, Mike Brown scored just one point on the mat.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

And that was in practice, nearly two decades ago. His coach described him as feeble.

Hello. Meet Mike Brown, 33, new top dog of World Extreme Cagefighting's featherweight division after ripping the championship belt from Urijah Faber last week at the Hard Rock Live arena in Hollywood, Fla. Brown, at 143 pounds, knocked Faber down with a hard right to the chin and jumped on him, pummeling him with lefts and rights.

The one-sided fight was stopped at 2 minutes, 21 seconds of the first round after the referee judged Faber unable to defend himself.

The crowd, including friends from Maine, was on its feet, cheering and yelling and understanding they had witnessed the upset of a popular champion by a likeable underdog. Faber was the California Kid, known for his flash and his swagger even as he voiced his respect for Brown.

After 13 years of ups and downs in mixed martial arts, Brown had been given an opportunity that few thought he could make good on.

''Ouch,'' said one person on an Internet message board before the fight. ''Is Mike Brown all the WEC has left to throw at Urijah?''

Last Wednesday night, Brown listened to the sounds of victory and ignored the pain in his ribs. He had torn cartilage throwing a punch. ''I was thinking of how nice it is to be the best,'' said Brown, several days later.

''It was a very private, very instinctive feeling of pride,'' said Brown, who made an estimated $25,000 to $32,00 off the fight. ''It was the same feeling I had winning the state championship in Maine a long time ago. It's amazing. I never thought I'd feel that feeling again.''

Back in Topsham, Ted Reese watched the WEC fight card on television with his wife. Brown had invited his old high school wrestling coach to the fight. Reese thanked him but declined. At 72, he still teaches English and is a volunteer coach with the Mt. Ararat wrestling program. He didn't think he could get away.

''I talk to Coach once a month,'' said Brown, who left Maine about five years ago, eventually settling in the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida to train and continue his mixed martial arts fighting. ''Coach taught me how to work hard. He led by example.''

The freshman who couldn't score points on his teammates was a state champ by his junior year at Bonny Eagle in 1992. Chris Zaharias, Jason York and Bryan Brunk were among his teammates and classmates. Adam Farrington, a future state champ, was starting his career. Bonny Eagle won two Class A titles during Brown's four years; it was runner-up the other two.

''He was a great kid,'' said Reese. ''He had zero temper and I mean zero. He was a poor student; he slid through Bonny Eagle. Then he went to Norwich (University) and became the No. 1 scholar-athlete in the whole school.''

It wasn't enough.

Brown wanted a more personal, a more testing challenge, and wrestling had a few too many rules. He tried Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which helped form the foundation of mixed martial arts. He learned to speak Portugese.

''I used to think about what would happen when you put two guys in a room, throw away the key and see who comes out,'' said Brown. He found his answer again last week. When Faber got a little careless, Brown pounced.

''My plan is always to keep a tight defense and look for my opening. I don't knock out a lot of opponents but I hit hard.''

He missed the victory party afterward, instead going to a hospital for the X-rays that revealed the torn cartilage. After four to six weeks of healing, he'll resume his career. He has a title to defend.

As word rippled out that he beat Faber, dozens of messages streamed into his home. Reese and Brown are still playing phone tag.

Funny, but some wondered how Reese, a disciple of amateur wrestling in its purest forms, would react to Brown's championship in a sport that hasn't gained wide acceptance.

''I have mixed feelings,'' said Reese. ''It can be savage but I've seen the respect opponents have for each other.

''People should be inspired by Mike being who he is and what he's accomplished. He's very humble.''

He earned his championship. The hard way.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

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