Jack Slack: Matt Brown's Rebirth

Fightland Blog

By Jack Slack


When Matt Brown stepped into the cage with Erick Silva, he made a dangerous mistake. He hesitated. He stood in front of a dangerous kicker, and gave that kicker space and time to work. It's a lesson which we keep seeing played out on the Octagon canvas—you can't give a kicker real estate, and you can't give a thoughtful, measured striker room to think.

But Matt Brown is a different type of animal. 

There are plenty of fighters who go undefeated for a good length of time, then have a disastrous performance and the wheels fall off the wagon. But Brown isn't one of those. For a very long time, Brown was an also-ran. At the end of 2010, he was on a three fight losing streak. Records like that are very rarely allowed to stick around in the UFC.

What is unique about Matt Brown is that he seems to learn from disaster, from failure, and from pain. This is a man who is called “The Immortal” because of his coming within an inch of death during a heroin overdose. That shock caused Brown to turn his life around.

That night against Erick Silva—Brown took a thunderous punt to the midriff and fell foetal just as Takenori Sato had before him. The difference is that Brown held on, he winced and gasped through the pain, and eventually he was back on the feet. He didn't make that mistake again.

From the moment he got up, Brown was all in, and Silva was a rag in the wind. Brown chased Silva from fence to fence, battering him with elbows and knees, and sweeping the young Brazilian to the floor if he ever tried to hold on.

Bloodied, battered, and finished in the third round, Silva (who was still being touted by some as MMA's next prodigy) looked as though he had no idea what had happened. Rising from the ashes, Brown had gone at Silva like a man who hadn't eaten in days, and no amount of technical brilliance can prepare an inexperienced fighter for being in with that kind of an animal.

The Cheat Sheet:

So, here we are. Matt Brown, a so-so fighter in 2009-2011, is now fighting in a UFC welterweight title eliminator. He's accumulated a seven fight winning streak, and has finished six of those opponents. 

Equally strange, thinking back just two or three years, is the fact that Brown's opponent is Robbie Lawler. Lawler has gone through something of a career renaissance as well—having transitioned from a wild young man, throwing leaping hooks at every opportunity, to a power punching middleweight, to a surprisingly methodical welterweight boxer. Lawler could even conceivably have won a decision in his last bout, against Johny Hendricks for the vacant UFC welterweight title.

So let's talk specifics:

Everything you need to know about Matt Brown can be summed up in one word—pace. Brown is at his best walking through punches and attempting to trap his opponent along the fence. When I talk about ring cutting, I usually point out that a left and right side double attack is best to get the job done.

A double attack (rather than a silly double punch) is two attacks which play off of each other. In BJJ the same idea can be seen everywhere—such as the holy trinity of the omoplata, triangle and armbar from guard (though that would be a triple attack of course). 

In striking,  a great example is Mirko Cro Cop's left straight and left high kick. Keep your forearm high and rigid to deal with the threat of the kick, you eat left straights down the middle. Start parrying the left straight, you've suddenly got nothing in the way of the left high kick. Another example is Sergei Kharitonov's right hook to the body and right hook to the head—he had little else in his arsenal and still did well enough that some consider him an elite heavyweight.

When cutting off the ring, it's best to have a good attack from your right side and from your left side. If the opponent moves one way or the other to get away from the fence, you meet him with a strike. George Foreman used a thudding jab / left hook to the head, and a brutal right hook to the kidney to pin his opponents and follow up with punches. Julio Cesar Chavez was all about the left hook and the right straight.

Matt Brown uses a left hook masterfully when he has his opponent circling. He starched Mike Swick with a left hook, and has hurt plenty of other guys on his streak with the same punch. And, of course, once he has you standing in front of him, Brown goes to work in flurries. 

Mike Pyle was trapped on the fence within an instant of the fight starting, and paid the price.

Brown's usual course of action as an opponent circles to his right is to throw a right high kick. It rarely does much—in fact it's pretty much always blocked—but it stands the opponent still and he steps in with punches, elbows and knees immediately afterwards. 

Having this kind of double attack, and being able to meet the opponent as he circles out in either direction, makes ring cutting so much easier. In fact, without something authoritative coming from both your left and right side, you aren't going to have much luck cutting the ring against smart fighters. Look at Roy Nelson's level of success against guys who know how to move their feet.

In his flurries Brown shows all sorts of strikes from elbows and knees to foot sweeps. The important point is that Brown is always lashing out with something—he doesn't so much have a money punch as a money position, along the fence.

Knees and elbows against Jordan Mein, himself not a slouch with the elbows.

Robbie Lawler, meanwhile, has become a far more measured fighter in the past few years. In addition to adding an effective butterfly guard to his game—which aided him against Koscheck and MacDonald—Lawler has become an offensive counterpuncher on the feet.

It's a conflict of terms, but it essentially means walking forward, but not really taking the offensive. You wait for the opponent to throw, you slip or roll with the punch, and you come back with punches of your own.

Throughout his bout with Rory MacDonald, Lawler would check MacDonald's famous jabbing hand, then release it and fire over the top as he knew the jab would come immediately. Notice the beautiful right hook which lands over the top of MacDonald's jab.

If Lawler showed an obvious weakness in his bout with Hendricks it's that he couldn't, then expect his team to shore up those holes, if he won't then perhaps the fact that he lost to Hendricks almost entirely because of the effects of those low kicks will change his mind. We certainly didn't see any new sides to Lawler against Jake Ellenberger in what was essentially a tune up fight and failed to really test The Ruthless One.

The punches proved no problem at all, but the low kicks rapidly reduced Lawler's movement and had him standing still in later rounds.

What should be fascinating about this fight is that both fighters love to hand fight. Handfighting is the act of checking your opponent's hands with your own. Brown loves to smother his opponent's hands and look for elbows, Lawler loves to hand fight and sneak short punches in.

Watch out for it even in the briefest moments. Brown is always trying to smother and deny offense.

A nice double hand trap to elbow against Mike Swick.

One of the really remarkable facets of the Lawler-Hendricks bout was the fact both men were within what is called “trapping range” for long periods of time. That is, fighting at the range where the hands are already on each other, but not full fledged wrestling. We saw it again in Chris Weidman versus Lyoto Machida. It seems as though it is something which is going to happen more and more as fighters round out their skill sets and handfighting without giving up a clinch becomes more realistic.

Much of Lawler vs Hendricks was fought at this range. It was unusual, but also made for an incredible fight.

Notice Lawler's constant checking of Hendrick's hands before he attacks.

Whatever happens, this is a bout where both men undeniably do their best work coming forwards. Whether it is the rough, rounded striking of Brown, or the powerful counter boxing of Lawler that wins out remains to be seen, but if you're a fight fan this Saturday's event isn't one to miss!

Pick up Jack Slack's new ebook, Fighting Karate at his blog Fights Gone By. Jack can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Check out these related stories:

Erick Silva vs Matt Brown: Drowning in the Clinch

Matt Brown's Conflicted Immortality