There were times last week when it felt like MMA’s love affair with Matt Brown was on the ropes.
It’s no secret that Brown did some pretty dumb stuff leading up to his UFC on Fox 12 main event against Robbie Lawler. First, he put his foot in his mouth—again. Then, he committed professional fighting’s cardinal sin, missing weight for the biggest bout of his life.
At Thursday’s open workouts, a careless quip Brown made about his own underdog status—telling a reporter he’d probably never be a betting favorite until the UFC booked him against “some retard”—caused copious eye-rolling and facepalming on social media.
Ugh. RT @marc_raimondi: When will Matt Brown be favorite? "Maybe if I'm champion and they put me up against a retard or something," he said.— Jeff Wagenheim SI (@jeffwagenheim) July 24, 2014
A day later he weighed in at 172.5 pounds, a full 1.5 over the limit for this fight. Afterward, Brown tried to shrug it off, telling Fox’s Ariel Helwani his “scale was wrong (or) whatever” and deadpanning that the key to beating Lawler would still be to “punch him before he punches me.”
Either of these gaffes could’ve been disastrous for another fighter, but Brown mostly managed to skate through unscathed.
Even though he lost his ensuing brawl with Lawler on Saturday night—and their hot-and-cold affair didn’t quite live up to our expectations as a potential fight of the year—Brown’s performance was just good enough for most of us to continue overlooking his flaws.
At least for now.
The defeat snapped Brown’s seven-fight, 29-month win streak, and as he fades back into rebuilding mode, it would probably be a good idea for him to mind his manners moving forward.
After all, it’s a lot easier to be forgiven for your quirks when you’re winning.
One of the things we like about Brown, the affable everyman, is that he’s unfiltered. His no-bull attitude dovetails nicely with his inspiring personal story and take-no-prisoners fighting style. Clearly, though, it comes at a price.
Last week’s slip of the tongue constituted more thoughtlessness than malice, but it came on the heels of his ugly previous comments about female fighters. Taken together, Brown suddenly doesn’t seem quite as lovable anymore. For the first time during his magical two-year run it feels like his shtick has started to drag. We’re beginning to wonder if perhaps his particular brand of folksy straight talk is best consumed in small doses.
Luckily for him, he’s successfully walked the tightrope so far, owing to the facts that fans like him and his fighting style is the sort his bosses love to promote.
The UFC told MMA Junkie it was “disappointed” by Brown’s off-color comments, but it mostly had his back on the issue of his unsuccessful weight cut. It easily could’ve hung him out to dry for both but didn’t.
Instead, UFC President Dana White said the California State Athletic Commission miscommunicated with Brown about his ability to hit the scale a second time. The CSAC claims this isn’t exactly true, and reports differed on whether he'd be fined for the mishap.
Even in the wake of his loss to Lawler, Brown will seemingly retain his standing as a star in the UFC welterweight division. White came to the post-fight press conference still brimming with compliments for The Immortal.
"I actually think Matt Brown moves up in the rankings with that fight,” White said. “I don't know how he didn't prove that he's the No. 2 guy in the world right now with that performance."
While the specifics of that statement are debatable, the general sentiment is clear. The UFC continues to regard Brown as a guy worth promoting, and he’s going to keep getting big fights.
That could be both good news and bad news, though. It means Brown still makes a compelling and exciting foil for nearly anybody in the 170-pound Top 10, but the level of competition he’ll find there makes it unlikely he’ll again soar to the heights seen during his lengthy win streak.
Would fans remain as willing to laugh off his causal misogyny and tone-deaf jokes if the losses started to pile up? Would the UFC continue to suffer his rough edges even as he became less and less viable?
We all know the answers to those questions.
Because we like to watch him fight so much, our industry is still inclined to accept Brown as a double-edged sword—a guy who is refreshingly honest but occasionally strays into the untoward and the obnoxious.
But if that’s the guy Brown plans to be in 2014, he best keep winning. He’d probably find it a lot more difficult to maintain his warts-and-all acceptance if he doesn’t.