For Australia’s Damien Brown, fighting has been a way of life since making his professional MMA debut in 2010.
The past two years have been difficult for the 32-fight veteran though, being unable to compete since October 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent international border closures.
Brown signed for Japanese promotion Rizin Fighting Federation in late 2018 where he won his promotional debut in December via round one submission against Daron Cruickshank. He followed up with a unanimous decision victory four months later against Japan’s Koji Takeda, which earned him a spot in the Rizin FF Light Weight Grand Prix.
Brown was unable to continue his success, suffering a first-round TKO loss to Tofiq Musayev and since then has been unable to compete, which has been partly his choice, but also part out of his control.
“It’s probably a little bit my choice. Plenty of people would say, well if you want to fight just fight, but I believe there’s more to it at my point in my career,” Brown said.
“I think it’s kind of got to be worth it at this age. I’ve done heaps in my career, so the idea of slipping down to the local tavern and getting into a fight in a cage doesn’t really have the same appeal, plus that’s what my athletes are doing, so I feel like giving back to the local community as far as MMA goes by giving more guy’s opportunities on those shows.
“When COVID hit it was like well my opportunity to fight overseas disappeared instantly and as we’ve seen unless you’re in the UFC basically no one is fighting overseas.
“Then the other small dilemma I have is Japan actually don’t let internationals in at the moment, so I still couldn’t get into Japan. It’s kind of just put my whole career on hold.”
The inability to fight for the past 24 months has not been easy for Brown who uses fighting and MMA as his escape since returning from service in the Australian military in Afghanistan during 2007.
“Fighting for me is more than just fighting or getting a paycheck, for me it like keeps me level, answers all the questions for me,” said Brown
“On a personal level, it’s been very difficult, even if it is my out and I had planned to retire at some point, having it taken away from me instantly you know out of your control, in this case the pandemic, it’s difficult.
“I guess it’s like someone having a career-ending injury abruptly add retirement to the plan. It’s like anything in life when you can’t plan for it, then it’s difficult to deal with.”
State governments in the past couple of weeks announcing roadmaps leading to the resumption of international travel is an encouraging sign for Brown that he will be able to compete again soon.
“That for me is the biggest motivation that I can get and the biggest sort of thing to show me that the world is going to start to open up soon,” he said.
“The more international travel bubbles that are open the better.”
With a return to the ring appearing more likely now, Brown is keeping his options open about who his next opponent could be.
He still has his eyes set on the Rizin FF Lightweight title, and current champion Roberto de Souza.
“I feel like I have a good enough game to beat Roberto Souza who’s their current champ,” the Queensland native said.
“I feel like I have a strike game that can beat him, I feel like I have a good enough submission game to either stop his game or beat him.
“I don’t necessarily want it because it’s an easy win or something like that, I want it because his level of jiu-jitsu is like Damian Maia style jiu-jitsu like if he gets you down on the ground you’re pretty much screwed.
“So, for me, that’s what I think would be a cool challenge is someone where you know that’s what they want to do and you need to be able to stop it.”
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If a fight against de Souza is unable to eventuate, the host of local Lightweight talent and Japanese legends on the Rizin FF roster interested Brown.
“I really had fun last time I fought a Japanese opponent in Japan,” Brown said.
“Japanese people took to me really well and funny enough when I went over there, I had a bunch of them actually sort of rooting for me, so I kind of would like to just keep fighting Japanese opponents.
“There’s a lot of legends over there like Tatsuya Kawajiri and Takanori Gomi. I would really like to maybe fight some of those guys.
“They’re in their late 30s, early 40s, so I feel like Rizin is a good spot for me, it’s a good spot for me at this point in my career as well.”
Brown has spent the past two years continuing to train and coach at his gym Base Training Centre in Brisbane, however has also served as an English commentator for Rizin’s FF events since Rizin 28 in June 2021.
“Basically, they just messaged me and said are you free to commentate and I was like yep, and that’s how it started,” said the 36-year-old.
“So as long as you have good internet, good microphone and the ability to talk, they’re happy with that.
“I was pretty confident when they gave me the opportunity. I was more worried that my internet would drop out halfway through an international event, like that calibre of event, that would have probably disappointed me, but I definitely wasn’t worried about my ability to jump on the mic and break down fights and talk about them.”
Having to do so remotely from back in Queensland, Brown has embraced the opportunity and sees commentary as a path he would like to continue to pursue post his fighting career.
“I’d love to just call fights all the time, I think it’s awesome. I mean, I feel like that’s kind of what makes you a good coach anyway, right? Just the ability to break down fights,” he said.
“If you’re interested in them, you’re interested in the technique and everything like that and you have the ability to break them down and look for the gaps and find out what people should be able to do next, then as long as you’re comfortable on a microphone then you should be able to commentate fights, they kind of go hand in hand.
“Once everything is said I’d be more than happy to just call fights and coach for the rest of my life, I found it really interesting.”
This ability to break down fights and look for patterns from his commentary role has aided Brown when watching his contemporaries compete in Rizin FF.
It’s given him a difference perspective on fights, and has allowed him to survey potential opponents and look at ways he could beat them.
“It has definitely given me the ability to look at the Lightweight talent in Japan,” Brown said.
“I find it really interesting, because before in the lightweight division… say there was an eight-man tournament, there was four or five internationals and a few Japanese guys. Whereas now, the Rizin Lightweight division is just full of Japanese Lightweights.
“So, I find it really interesting, there seems to be a lot of talent out there and there’s obviously a lot of signed Lightweights in the Lightweight division, so there’s a lot more opponents now because of the pandemic.”
Having competed around the world and in a host of different promotions from Cage Warriors in the United Kingdom and Europe to the UFC, Brown would like to finish his career in Japan as part of Rizin FF due to the adoring Japanese fan base.
“I like to think as far as treatment goes, they’re [Rizin] just a cut above the rest, but I think that’s not so much the promotion, but more Japan as a culture,” he said.
“The way people treat you, the Western world sort of treats athletes like they’re just pieces of meat. It’s like they’re sending in there for bloodshed.
“Whereas in Japan with that sort of samurai martial arts culture, they tend to just treat you a lot better.
“They really appreciate it, and it flows over in the way they talk to you, the way that people behave around you.
“The crowds over there are like golf crowds, so they’re educated, so they tend to clap good technique and sit quietly in between. So, it’s a really cool experience and I think anyone that’s ever fought in Japan would say the exact same thing.”
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