Former Bonny Eagle High School wrestling standout not retiring, set for UFC fight in Boston

Posted Aug. 15, 2013, at 2:34 p.m.

BOSTON, Mass. — Mike Brown already has a game plan for after he gives up his current occupation.

But the aging warrior who turned a standout wrestling career at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish — where he was the 1992 Class A wrestling state champion at 112 pounds — and Norwich University into more than a decade as a mixed martial arts professional is not quite ready to make the transition from active fighter to full-time coach.

“I love the sport,” said Brown, a 37-year-old featherweight now living in Florida who will fight Steven Siler on Saturday night for the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship’s “UFC on FOX Sports 1” card at the TD Garden.

“It’s been great for me to be able to work at something that I’d do for free,” he said.

Brown, one of two Maine natives currently active in the UFC along with Lincolnville middleweight Tim Boetsch, contemplated retirement last year as he dealt with a nagging neck injury.

But he signed a five-fight extension with the UFC in the aftermath of a unanimous decision victory over Daniel Pineda in his most recent bout in May 2012. And his recovery from cervical fusion surgery on his neck last September has left him reinvigorated for competition.

“Just getting my body healthy has been the big thing,” said Brown, who will bring a 26-8 record into the Siler bout. “This is the best I’ve felt in a long time.

“It was supposed to be six months for a full recovery after the surgery, but I was doing a lot after three months and after six months I was really going at 100 percent,” Brown said. “There was some residual pain for a while, but now I’m as good as I’ve ever been.”

UFC president Dana White is happy to have Brown back in the octagon.

“He took some time off and claims he never retired, and I thought he was going to retire, too,” said White recently. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and he wants to fight so we’ve got him in there.”

Brown ranks as one of Maine’s MMA pioneers along with the likes of Tim Sylvia, Dale Hartt and Marcus Davis, with whom he trained for a time in Portland during the early 2000s.

Brown debuted in the sport in 2001 in Massachusetts, New England’s mixed martial arts hotbed at the time.

Much has changed about the sport and Brown’s status within it since then.

“In my first two fights they didn’t allow closed fists,” said Brown, who testified before the Maine Legislature in support of legalizing the sport in the Pine Tree State, which became reality in 2009. “All we could use was open fists. It was weird.”

Brown emerged from the regional scene to make his UFC debut in 2004, losing in the first round to Genki Sudo.

That was the first of two straight losses that slowed his rise through the ranks, but after winning nine of his next 10 fights he joined the WEC in mid-2008.

Less than six months later, he was that organization’s featherweight champion after dethroning Urijah Faber via a first-round technical knockout at Hollywood, Fla.

Brown held his title for a year through two successful defenses before being dethroned in November 2009 by Jose Aldo, the current UFC champion in the 145-pound weight division.

Since then he has fought somewhat sporadically while dealing with neck issues that first threatened his combat sports career while he was wrestling at Norwich during the late 1990s.

Still he returned to the UFC after its purchase of the WEC in 2010 and is 2-2 in his current stint with the world’s leading MMA promotion.

Brown, a former assistant wrestling coach at the University of Southern Maine, also has continued that second professional passion as a coach at the American Top Team training camp in Coconut Creek, Fla., that has been his home base since 2005.

“There are so many good things that come from mixed martial arts, from getting in shape to self-defense,” he said. “I really love the sport of it, and I love to help the younger guys with it.”

But Brown’s not quite ready to relinquish the opportunity to fight for himself, though he isn’t sure he will fight all five bouts on his current deal.

He prefers to focus instead on this weekend’s return to action.

“I’m a short-term goal type of guy,” he said. “I don’t like to set longer goals, but they’re in the back of my mind. Five fights is a lot to think about, though.”

His opponent on Saturday’s card, one of the first live events to be televised on the debuting “Fox Sports 1” cable television channel, is 22-10 overall and 4-1 since joining the UFC in 2011.

The 26-year-old Siler, from Anaheim, Calif., also holds a five-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-6-inch Brown.

“He’s a tough guy, an experienced guy. Between the two of us we have almost 70 fights, and he likes to come forward, he doesn’t back up,” Brown said.

“I do the same thing, so it should be an exciting fight,” he added.

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