I am the best unsigned lightweight in Australia: An interview with Damien Brown

If it’s one thing that Damien Brown understands, it’s sacrifice. The former military man put his life on the line to serve his country in a seven month tour of duty in Afghanistan, leaving behind his now wife and family to do so. Although many would balk at the idea of spending months away from home, in enemy territory, it’s an experience Brown relished and would do again in a heartbeat if required.

It’s a testament to his character and integrity that he would so willingly lay it all on the line to look after those he cares about, and those he’s never even met before, without the fear of what may happen. It is these traits that have made him one of Australia’s best and most respected fighters.

Brown started his career in martial arts at the age of five when he took up Zen Do Kai, a form of freestyle martial arts, which merges traditional and modern techniques, principles and attitudes. An astute student he received a black belt at the age of 12 before deciding to follow his passion for rugby. Whilst never reaching the elite levels of the sport, Brown took to the competitiveness of it like a duck to water, loving the camaraderie and achievement that comes with being part of a winning team.

In 2011, while still serving in the army, Brown met his future coach and training partner, Adrian Pang. Although Brown admits he had no idea who Pang was initially, it didn’t take long for the MMA veteran to have a significant impact on his mixed martial arts career.

“I first encountered Adrian after I fought a guy from Integrated MMA (Pang’s gym) and I got the win. I didn’t know Adrian at the time and there was a sly comment between the two of us. When I finally did meet him again down the line it was nerve wracking because he’s so well respected.” Brown told FNA.

“It really is an honour to have him and Dan Higgins in my corner. Adrian has sacrificed so much for the gym and his students, it’s something I really look up to and I certainly hope one day that I can have what he has.”

As Brown’s MMA career evolved and he became more engrossed in training and fighting it inevitably became time to put away the cammo and focus on the new path he had begun to carve out for himself. The discipline, determination and the endless adrenalin rush experienced from service in the military, whilst in no way replicated by fighting, has some similarities, Brown explained.

“What it feels like to get into the cage is the same feeling as going overseas (on a tour of duty). It doesn’t mean everyone is going to kill you but it gives you that feeling, when the cage door shuts, that the person is trying to hurt you.”

“Their intention is knock you out, break your arm, choke you to sleep – whatever it is, they’ve got bad intentions and the adrenalin is much the same. It’s not about death, it’s about aggression and physical combat. You never know what’s going to happen when you fight.”

To say that Brown has experienced the ups and downs of professional sport is an understatement. In fact he came very close to walking away from it all. At the end of 2013 the Queenslander suffered a decision loss when fighting overseas on the Cage Warriors 61 card. This was followed three months later by another loss at Cage Warriors 65, and then another loss three months later again at Cage Warriors 69. The nail in the proverbial coffin would come only two months later when he went down via submission (choke) to Ricky Rea in the opening round at Fightworld Cup 18. Brown was devastated to say the least. Four back-to-back losses within the space of eight months would put a dint in most people’s egos. Thankfully for Brown however his wife Therese and teammates at Integrated MMA weren’t ready to give up on him just yet, a decision that has seen the 31 year old rack up four back-to-back victories including winning the Brace lightweight tournament against Ben Games via submission and securing the vacant lightweight title at XFC 23 with a unanimous decision win over Shane Young. With robust momentum built over the course of the 2015 calendar year Brown has now created a solid foundation in which to take his career to the next level and cement himself as the country’s next big talent. In Brown’s mind he is a force to be reckoned with in the lightweight division in Australia and is bested only by Jake Matthews who fights in the UFC and his coach, Adrian Pang, who fights under the One Championship banner in Asia.

“I know that I am the best free agent lightweight in Australia and I believe that even coming off four losses.” Brown said. “It feels good to not just win but to finish fights and to prove to people that I’m no push over. It doesn’t matter who I fight, I’m coming to fight. I honestly believe, in my heart and in my head, that I am the best unsigned lightweight in Australia.”

With UFC Brisbane just around the corner, and more eyes on the Australian MMA scene than ever before, Brown will be looking to prove just that when he defends his XFC lightweight belt against New Zealand Top Team’s Pumau Campbell who is a late replacement for previous opponent Sebastian Garguier who had to pull out of the title fight due to a head injury sustained at training.

The kiwi prospect, Campbell, is a wizard on the feet with his last outing ending by a spectacular knock out at XFC 21.  He brings to the table an unblemished Mauy Thai and boxing record as well as holding a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Brown, who has had to make some adjustments in his preparation for the new opponent, has no qualms with taking the fight into deep water, as he gets better as the rounds go on, however regardless of how the fight plays out he has every intention of finishing his opponent and making an impression that he hopes will get him noticed by the UFC, a dream he has long held and continues to pursue with gusto.

In this crazy world of MMA anything can happen but one thing is certain in sport and in life and that is that those who get knocked down and get back up again are the true champions. As Rocky Balboa so aptly noted: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

And Damien Brown continues to do just that.

Combat sports enthusiast.