Writers don't have nearly as an important role in the fight game as they used to. Jack Dempsey, for instance, would never have received his shot at the heavyweight title were it not for the efforts of Nat Fleischer, Damon Runyon and other boxing writers to advertise him as a legitimate and worthy prospect.
Even though I can have little effect in getting Matt Brown more significant opponents (he is working hard enough at that himself), he has rapidly become one of my favorite fighters to watch. Writing a piece advertising his ability is the least I can do to thank him for spicing up so many cards, a few of which were a blur of dirge until Brown's performance.
To that end, if you haven't ever seen a Matt Brown fight, I implore you to stop what you are doing and find one right now.
Brown has, and I say this with no desire to characterize him as some kind of animal or monster, a gift for violence. It seems when he finds himself in situations he cannot have bargained for, he excels at doing the sensible thing.
After a fight where two men have swung at each other almost chest to chest and accomplished little, it is easy for us to say, "Why didn't one of them start using elbows or move to a double collar tie and attempt a knee?"
What Brown does is excel at performing strategically superior decisions mid-exchange. Whether this is rationalized or, as I implied, simply a gift, I do not know. It does however make him one of the most entertaining and varied fighters in the game. And one of the most dangerous.
If Brown has his man hurt, which happened early against Mike Pyle at UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen, he is one of the best finishers in his division by far.
To simplify Brown's game down to its core elements, he is a brawler with great inside work who excels in not just limiting his opponents' lateral movement, but actively punishes them for it. Cutting off the ring in MMA is woefully bad for the most part, but he has a great grasp on it.
When his opponents move to his right, he chucks a hard high kick that inevitably stands them still as he comes in with his punches, elbows and knees. When they circle toward his left, he hits them with a long left hook. When they stand still, he starts throwing his right, moving his head and getting into the range where he can, again, beat them up with knees and elbows.
It's simple on paper, but so many fighters actively can't do it. Any time that a fighter complains about an opponent running—think Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida or Nate Diaz vs. Carlos Condit—it is normally because he is not skilled at cutting off the ring. Even Nate Quarry vs. Kalib Starnes could have turned out differently if Quarry had been a skilled ring-cutter. Though he did smack Starnes around a good deal anyway.
A look at the last round of Brown's win over Mike Swick is a perfect example of "The Immortal" at his most basic. Brown extended his arms to smother Swick's highly touted hands and then lunged in with a right elbow, ducking his head under and into a clinch afterward.
After eating that elbow, Swick spent the remainder of the fight circling away from Brown's right side to prevent it happening again. As Brown threw a right straight at him, Swick ran out straight into a left hook that knocked him out.
I talk about it all the time, but it cannot be said enough: Punching power is not a one-person act. At any professional level, the opponent is going to be moving all the time, not standing still and mimicking a heavy bag. To punch hard, it is necessary to have an opponent moving into the punch.
Some folks draw their opponents in straight and cause a collision that way: the counter fighters. Ring-cutters herd their opponents into their strikes.
A great example is George Foreman. By using his thudding left hook and jab, he could ensure his opponent would circle into his thunderous right hook to the body.
A fighter can't walk through a strike, even a blocked one, so the strike will hold him in place for a combination or flurry.
Here is a video I made using Foreman as a case study to illustrate cutting off the ring and herding an opponent into punches.
Where Foreman had a hammering left hook and a right hook to the body, Brown has a left hook and a right high kick. Each of these techniques will knock an opponent out if he runs into them clean and unaware, or hold him in place for a brawl if he blocks them.
If you have the chance, review Brown's bout with Jordan Mein. At the end of the second round, Mein is circling toward Brown's right. Brown throws a hard right roundhouse kick that Mein blocks, but as Brown lands from the kick, he hits a couple of punches, moves to a double collar tie and lands a few good knees as well.
Being a good brawler or able to win exchanges is brilliant, but if you can't get in position to brawl, your skills there are worthless. Brown is one of the best fighters in MMA at turning a match into a fight, and while the talk of a title shot might be a little premature, I find him to be one of the most intelligent fighters and one of the fastest to adapt to any situation.
Just in that Mein bout, as his opponent came out for the second round, he switched momentarily to a southpaw stance and ducked his head off to the right. Brown immediately nailed Mein with a right hand lead, which set about the move to the ground and the finish.
Brown even opted to jump up to his feet against his turtled opponent (something many of my readers will know I love to see fighters do) and finished with elbow strikes to the back of the rib cage. How often do you see a fighter do that?
These split-second decisions might be instinctive or drilled in, but he consistently makes decisions in the middle of a scrap that hold up to strategic scrutiny after the bout. He might not (nay, probably won't) ever win a title, but Brown has the finest finishing instincts I have seen in anyone in the UFC since Nate Marquardt.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking from his blog, Fights Gone By.