Matt Brown has enjoyed an improbable rise to prominence. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Renowned buzz killers’ rational thinking and hindsight have a knack for ruining the in-the-moment magic that causes us to breathlessly speak in glowing superlatives the night before.
That goes double for MMA.
The surreal took center stage on Saturday in Cincinnati. Underdogs ran rampant, Soa Palelei smooched then serenaded and a cartoonish caricature of Chuck Liddell patrolled the U.S. Bank Arena. With all that going on, it is not hard to understand why we might want a journeyman-turned-contender who once nearly died of a heroin overdose to have co-authored something warranting a “best ever,” or at least “best now” designation.
For five minutes, Matt Brown and Erick Silva earned every single one of the post-fight accolades they would later receive. Living up to his reputation for rocketing out of the gate, Silva dropped “The Immortal” with a body shot and then jumped on his opponent’s back in pursuit of a rear-naked choke early in the opening period. Brown, who has suffered nine of his 11 career defeats via submission, appeared to be done. Of course, he was far from it.
Brown exploded back to his feet and lit into Silva with punches and knees, chasing the suddenly reeling Brazilian with murderous intent. The tide turned in the second half of round one, and it would not be changing direction again. Brown never gave Silva room to breathe after that, polishing off the once-touted prospect -- and betting favorite -- with a final volley of standing-to-ground punches 2:11 into the third frame.
That dramatic victory continued a remarkable transformation for “The Ultimate Fighter 7” alum. Back in November 2011, Brown was coming off a submission loss to Seth Baczynski at UFC 139; it was his fourth defeat in five outings. He was 30 years old, .500 in the Octagon and apparently locked into a role as a perennial gatekeeper. At the time, no one could have envisioned the Ohio native headlining a card in his home state, much less putting on a show that had people wondering where it -- and he -- ranked among the sport’s best.
Not to pour lime juice in everyone’s celebratory can of Skoal, but as exciting as Brown’s clash with Silva was, it was not even 2014’s best, much less the best of all-time. UFC 171’s back-and-forth welterweight title clash between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler is the leader in the clubhouse for now.
Round of the year is a different story. Few frames can match the action and ebb-and-flow of the initial stanza between Brown and Silva.
“That was one of the best first rounds I’ve ever seen,” Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White said. “Brown ate those body shots like a champ. Those were brutal. The kid is becoming a big star, but he’s a huge star in Cincinnati tonight.”
As for Brown himself, even seven wins in a row does not automatically warrant a title shot. Just ask Jon Fitch, Jim Miller, George Sotiropoulos or Gray Maynard. Fitch and Maynard were victims of their own style, and both needed another victory before they were granted shots at promotional gold. Sotiropoulos followed his tear with a five-bout skid and drifted into obscurity. Miller has been up-and-down since winning seven straight, seemingly hitting his ceiling in losses to Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz.
In other words, Brown still has work to do. In the high-adrenaline aftermath of a signature performance, it is not always easy to remain level-headed. The UFC Fight Night “Brown vs. Silva” headliner in the Queen City was a great reminder as to why we stick with MMA. However, we all have a tendency to instantly elevate the status of anything remotely memorable as it is happening.
This is not meant as a slight to Brown. The man is a hell of a lot of fun, as are his fights. However, Brown’s highest-profile victory just came against someone who is now 4-4 in the Octagon. For all of his potential, Silva has been the MMA equivalent of the workout warrior who wows the men with stopwatches and tape measures at the NFL combine only to come up short on game day.
Sure, Brown has other nice wins -- Mike Pyle, Jordan Mein and Mike Swick come to mind -- but are any of those worth putting the Ohioan on an accelerated path? While a winning streak of any kind would be ideal, it has already been proven that it is not a prerequisite for contention. Chael Sonnen and Nick Diaz stand as recent examples. If a fighter can draw, that is sometimes all that matters. With more fights like the one he had with Silva, Brown could very well reach a new plane when it comes to fan recognition.
Still, welterweight is a deep as it has ever been -- “It’s like the Wild, Wild West in that division right now,” White said -- and Brown should have to get at least one top 10 victory before he can enter the Hendricks derby in earnest. With that said, the matchmaking used to build Brown’s name should be applied more frequently by the UFC. Brown is now someone people want to see, not because he ran a gauntlet of ranked foes but because he won consistently in a violent fashion. Now it is time to steepen the learning curve.
In a utopian MMA world, Brown’s next opponent would be plucked out of semi-retirement from Northern California. That is far from rational thinking, as White seems to have moved on from the idea of a Nick Diaz comeback. Still, it sure seemed like a great idea on Saturday in Cincinnati.