For Mike Brown the last few months have been terrifying and frustrating in equal measure. Once the WEC featherweight champion and a staple of pound-for-pound best lists, Brown has fallen on hard times. He's lost three of his last four, including bouts to the unheralded Diego Nunes and the seemingly overmatched Rani Yahya. The losses anger Brown, like they do all fighters who once competed at the highest level. But what really scares him, terrifies him to his core, is that his body has betrayed him.
"Something is going on with my body where it was kind of shutting down. I was getting exhausted really early. We thought it was over-training, but my body was filling with lactic acid like three minutes into the fight," Brown said in an exclusive interview with Bloody Elbow that can be heard in its entirety on our new podcast this afternoon. "I'm seeing some doctors right now to see what's going on...It happened during training camp. I do an eight week camp and for four weeks I was a monster. I was doing great, working hard, beating everybody up. Then all of the sudden, I was sparring and I was getting tired."
Brown has a Forrest Griffin-esque work ethic, a true gym rat who is as focused and devoted to the sport as anyone in the game. To him, the answer to his problem was more work. No one worked harder, no one sparred harder. It was a point of pride. After all, that's what had gotten him to the top of the sport. The loss to Nunes stung and Brown wanted to get right back into it. Afraid that he had gone too hard in his preparation for that bout, Brown and his trainers decided to slow things down for his fight three weeks later with Yahya. That worked no better.
"I was working, I can't be getting in worse shape. That's impossible. We thought that was the problem so we started to cut back. That didn't work. I don't know man," Brown said. "...After the loss I was depressed. So the best way to fix that is to get a win. What I thought was the problem is that I had over-trained. So I just eased back...I only sparred like two or three times for the fight. I thought I was going to be safe, but the same thing happened again. I thought he was no threat so I was going to go 60, 70 percent. There's no way I could get tired and he's not going to submit me. I was taking it easy and I lost the first by doing that. And somehow, my body still gave out. It didn't make any sense to me...I've got some doctors helping me out. It might have something to do with my heart. My heart rate is running really high resting, so I'm seeing a cardiologist. Hopefully we'll sort it out."
His struggles affected more than just his preparation for the fights. Brown actually found himself adjusting his game plan, not to counter something his opponent would do, but in fear his body would collapse.
"That's what kills me, what's breaking my heart," Brown said. Nunes was an opponent a world class fighter like Brown should beat. In the end, he physically couldn't do what he knew needed to be done. "My body just gave out. Literally three to four minutes in...it just shut down. I couldn't move. I wanted to throw up and die. I had a good poker face. You couldn't really tell on the tape. But you could tell. In the third round he would throw 10 to 15 strikes and I didn't throw one strike. I just shut down. I'd wait, wait, wait, get enough energy and throw one punch. Just hoping I could hit him. But my body was done."
The loss to Yahya may be a blessing in disguise. Brown underwent surgery last Wednesday to reattach a completely torn off medial collateral ligament in his left hand, an injury suffered during a scramble with the jiu jitsu ace. He hopes to take six months off to recover, regroup, and renew his quest to get back to the top of the featherweight division.
"I need time off. I just fought twice in January. I fought six times in the last fourteen months," Brown said. "That's a lot for a world class guy. And I've had a rough streak. I need to stop and figure out what's wrong."