Words

Matt Brown's Conflicted Immortality

Fightland Blog

By Jeff Harder

Two years ago, Matt Brown was just another middling former Ultimate Fighter cast member on the verge of getting cut from the UFC. He had a reputation as a plainspoken tough guy who’d take a few to give a few, the guy who’d survived a heroin overdose and made it to the UFC but hadn’t done much once he got there. Today, Brown is still a plainspoken tough guy but now he’s on a five–fight win steak and knocking at the door of a title shot. To hear him tell it, the overdose—the episode that resulted in the nickname, “The Immortal,” he has buried in the flesh above his abdomen—is an over-emphasized line in his biography, something he’d take back ever talking about if he could. There are a couple of tattoos he’d probably take back, too.

Matt Brown: I guess my first tattoo was just to be cool or tough or whatever, and then it just went on from there. It’s a tribal tattoo on my left arm. I think I got it the week I turned 18. I went to the tattoo parlor, picked something out, and did it—it was just flash art or something in a magazine, just picked it out right there. I just wanted a tattoo.

Come to think of it, that wasn’t actually my first tattoo, because I gave one to myself before that. I always forget that I even have it. It’s on my thigh. I was, like, 15 and I was grounded in my room. I just sat there and got a needle and some ink out of the printer and just started poking to see if it would work. And it did, so I went on with it. Originally, I was just trying to make like a prison tattoo gun. I was smart enough to figure out the concept and how to do it, but I couldn't find a guitar string that was thin enough so it wouldn't rip me open. So I just got a regular-ass needle. If I were really smart, maybe I would’ve filed down the guitar string.

It's a shitty, horrible tattoo. I don't remember if I started with red or if I started with black, but I ran out of one of ‘em. Half of it’s red and half of it’s black, and it looks horrible. You can barely read it—it says, “Heart, fist, soul, mind.” It’s lyrics from a Sepultura song.

After the tribal tattoo, I got a skull on my right arm. It was just a straight flash tattoo. It’s covered up now, though. It just didn’t mean anything to me at all, and it looked all evil and shit. The cover-up is a piston, gears, some hydraulic cylinders, some biomechanical stuff—kind of like a Terminator-type thing. As a fighter, I should be a machine, you know? Pretty simple.

I was 23, I think, when I got the “Immortal” tattoo. My friends were joking around about me being immortal and stuff. And it crossed my mind—man, that’d look cool if it was tattooed across my stomach. It was somewhat inspired by Phil Anselmo, the lead singer of Pantera—he had “Unscarred” across his stomach. It just went from there. It was pretty simple, it was pretty hardass-sounding, but there’s more meaning to me than just my friends joking around.

Originally, I didn't even want it to be my nickname. But it was already tattooed on my stomach, and the promoter for one of my first fights gave it to me—he pretty much wouldn’t let me use any other nickname. I was kind of pissed off, but then it stuck. It’s grown with me. We can’t forget where we come from, and it’s a constant reminder of where I came from. I’ve definitely grown into it.

When it comes to the OD’ing and everything, I’m happy it inspires people and that’s always good, but I definitely don't want to be known for that. I don't want to be known as the guy who made it who OD’d. I just want to be known as the guy who made it. To me, it doesn't seem like something as special as it’s made out to be.

I’ve had some interviews where I’ve been forced to talk about it—it’s one of those things that I never really intended to get out there like that. For one reason, my mom never even knew that it happened until she read one of my interviews. And I was obviously pretty ashamed of it at the time—I didn’t go telling my mom, “Hey, I OD’d on heroin the other day, what’s up?” A lot of the things from my past I kept secret from my family, and that was one of those things.

At that time in my life, when I got the tattoo, I was pretty much a nobody looking to be somebody. That’s kind of my ultimate goal in life: to be immortalized, to be remembered, to live forever—not necessarily physically, but to be in the history books and everything. Also, it means you can beat me down as hard as you want, you can knock me down, you can tap me out, knock me out, do whatever you want—I’m still gonna get right back up the next day and be in your face.

The tattoo on my left oblique is junk. Garbage. The guy told me that he’d hook me up with a tattoo—he works at a shop, I had seen some of his previous work, and it looked fine. I don’t know if he faked his previous work or if he was drunk or high or something when he did mine, but he completely fucked it up. It was supposed to be twin dragons. They’re kind of interlaced and holding the earth between their hands. I always wanted a dragon tattoo. Plus it was a little something for my twin boys after they were born.

I’ve been planning on getting it fixed a million times, but when you get a tattoo, you’ve gotta take a couple days off of training. It’s gonna take four or five hours or work to do that, and I just haven’t had the time.

I don’t think I’m gonna lose any fans because I got a shitty tattoo.

If I’m at home, I’m going to the gym. I hate taking days off from the gym. Just about the only time I take off is the week or two after the fight. And at that point, I don't really feel like going through the intensity of a tattoo.

I’ve told myself that from now on, if I’m thinking about a tattoo, I’m gonna think about it for, like, a month, you know what I mean? On top of that, I have kids now, and any extra money pretty much goes toward something for them. It’s not like I don't have money for it, but I feel guilty spending $500 or $600 on a tattoo when I could put that in their college fund.

Tattoos aren’t cheap. Cheap tattoos are cheap. I learned that the hard way. 

Check out these related stories:

Peace Through Fighting (and Tattoos)

The Crippler's Ink

The Many Tattoos of Enson Inoue

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