Matt Brown played the underdog to the end.
In the immediate aftermath of his epic third-round technical knockout victory over Erick Silva on Saturday, Brown stood in the cage in a ball cap and black T-shirt, looking not too much worse for wear.
The Internet was going bananas over what he’d just done and the Cincinnati crowd roared its approval, but Brown acted pretty Matt Brown about the whole thing.
When play-by-play announcer Jon Anik put a mic in his face and suggested that he’d just turned in one of the greatest performances in UFC history, Brown looked at him as if to say, "Dude, you must be crazy."
“I just did what I do,” Brown said. “I didn’t even think it was that great of a fight. I didn’t feel my best at all tonight. It was my first main event, in my home state, close to my hometown. The pressure got to me a little bit, but once I started feeling the groove of the fight, I started pulling things together.”
On a night when he would’ve been justified in pounding his chest and proclaiming his own greatness, Brown seemed reticent to pat himself on the back.
It was yet another reminder of why UFC fans have taken to him.
Brown has been great in the role of Cinderella during his surprise march to stardom, establishing himself as one of the Octagon’s consummate everymen.
During the weeks leading up to a fight, he charms us with his straightforward, down-home sensibilities and then he goes out and wows with yet another gutsy, all-or-nothing performance in the cage.
Saturday night was the best chapter yet in his unlikely story.
Analysts were hailing Brown’s blockbuster win over Silva as a Fight of the Year candidate before he’d even left the cage. The victory ran his string of consecutive wins to seven, tying champions Renan Barao and Chris Weidman for the UFC’s second-longest active win-streak—trailing only pound-for-pound kingpin Jon Jones at 11.
It had been a long wait for Brown, who spent the last nine months on the shelf after a back ailment forced him to bow out of a scheduled fight against Carlos Condit.
As he sat idle, he seemed at risk of losing the momentum he’d established by winning six straight bouts in 2012-13.
Three months after Brown’s injury, Condit blew out his knee during the second round of a pay-per-view co-main event against Tyron Woodley. Woodley will now take on Rory MacDonald in a likely No. 1 contender bout at UFC 174.
It was hard not to look at the result and think, "That could’ve been Matt Brown."
Instead, the suddenly ultra-compelling welterweight division rocketed on without him and it seemed as though harsh reality had finally intervened on Brown's dream run.
Even when things had been going the best for him, his sudden success was a shock at every turn. As a fighter who began his UFC career going just 5-5 from 2008-11, it felt implausible that he would ever recapture the roll he was on before the back injury.
But once again, he proved us wrong at UFC Fight Night 40, single-handedly reinserting himself among the division’s elite with his thrilling win over Silva.
In the end, the bout turned out to be so good that it reenergized his prospects—even though it didn’t look like it was going to play out that way in the early going.
The 29-year-old Brazilian crumpled him with a pair of body kicks during the fight’s first minute, but Brown weathered an onslaught of follow-up punches and then survived the next two minutes with Silva riding his back.
After working to his feet down the stretch of the opening stanza, Brown punished his opponent with punches, kicks and knees, even twice dumping him to the canvas with trip takedowns very much in the style of a playground bully.
Silva endured it, but he’d already given his best.
Most of the final seven minutes belonged to Brown, who wore him out with his in-your-face style and relentless pace.
Silva scored intermittently with shots to the body, but Brown took them and kept coming, eventually forcing referee Herb Dean to stop the action when Silva turtled up from punches with 2:11 gone in the third.
It was a wild, grueling affair, and MMA Junkie reported that Silva left the cage on a stretcher, missing the post-fight press conference in favor of a trip to the hospital.
Later, UFC president Dana White indicated that Silva had come back with a clean bill of health and we all hoped it was merely exhaustion that sent him to the emergency room.
For Brown, the victory put a fitting cap on a night that saw seven of 13 fights—including each of the last three—end in stoppages.
Despite the action, the show seemed to drag at times, slowed by cable TV commercial breaks and too many in-studio interludes.
Even as Daron Cruickshank upset Erik Koch and Costas Philippou knocked Lorenz Larkin cold, the UFC's social-media-happy fanbase grew restless. With a baker’s dozen worth of fights and a 10 p.m. EST start time, it was getting late.
Then Brown came along and woke up the crowd, proving and re-proving why we considered The Immortal One on the verge of a 170-pound title shot less than a year ago.
While he likely didn’t earn one with his victory over Silva, his next fight should be a high-profile affair against another top contender.
No matter what, it will be interesting—not to mention a whole lot of fun—to see where Brown’s understated, no-frills hype train goes next.