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SYDNEY – Brian Foster was 21 and had already lived an incomprehensible life on the day he and his brother decided to go hiking.
His father, Albert, was murdered when he was 13. Foster had next-to-no relationship with his father, who'd split from his mother when Brian was 3.
"My mom kind of kept us apart," he said in his slow Oklahoma drawl.
Albert Foster was murdered when he tried to stiff three men money he owed in a drug deal, Brian said. Foster lived with his grandparents in a trailer home that would often include as many as 15 to 20 people. He slept five or six to a bedroom, more often than not sleeping on the floor. People were always in abundance, but money was not. He lived in what he called "the worst environment possible" and there wasn't a lot of hope to escape the situation.
"My grandmother, she could feed an army for $20," he said. "You learn that kind of stuff when you don't have anything."
He had grown incredibly close with his younger brother, Brandon. Brian and Brandon were the oldest of four siblings and made it their business to look out for the younger two.
The two were hiking on Wild Horse Mountain in Sallisaw, Okla., on June 1, 2006, when the unimaginable occurred. During the walk, the rocks gave way beneath Brandon Foster's feet and he hurtled down to the ground nearly 200 feet below. Brian was the first to reach his brother, who was conscious and alive, but unable to speak. Nearly every one of his bones was broken.
"He pretty much died right there with me sitting with him," Foster said. "I got there first, but there was nothing I could do. I was helpless. It was a really devastating ordeal. It's one of them things, where your life takes a turn."
Brian Foster didn't react well to his brother's death. He was bitter and angry and looked to take his rage out on others.
He and Brandon had worked side by side at Comfort Coils, a bed manufacturer, loading trucks. On the day Brandon died, Brian made the decision never to return to the job. He couldn't envision being there without his brother.
For a month, he was a lost soul, not sure where he was headed but certain it was nowhere good.
"I was a very angry kid and I didn't know how to take it," he said of his brother's death. "I felt alone."
A little more than four years after the second major tragedy of his young life, Brian Foster thinks back to the day his brother died and grins wanly.
In dying, Brandon Foster gave his brother a gift.
Brian Foster became a mixed martial arts fighter less than two months later. He made his pro debut on July 14, 2006, despite having next-to-no training. He fought two times that night for Masters of the Cage 2 in Oklahoma City, winning his first by knockout and losing his second by submission. By the end of 2006, he'd already racked up seven fights.
Just a little more than three years after he lost his best friend, Brian Foster made his debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship at UFC 103. Rick Story submitted him in the second round after a sensational first, but the UFC brass liked it so much that it was chosen as Fight of the Night.
He then overwhelmed veteran Brock Larson at UFC 106, physically dominating and stopping him in the second round. Foster will fight Chris Lytle on Saturday (Sunday in Australia) at Acer Arena on the preliminary card of UFC 110.
The gift Brandon Foster gave his big brother is obvious to anyone who has seen Brian fight.
"He gave me the gift to entertain people," Brian Foster said. "I'm a fighter, but I'm really an entertainer. All of this, everything I've done, is possible because of him."
He had decided that fighting was a way for him to express his pent-up emotions. When he quit his factory job and decided to fight, it wasn't a career move. It was a necessity.
"I was going through a lot of mental stress, a lot of pain, due to that," he said of Brandon's passing. "I started training, and it was like an anesthetic for that pain. Losing him took a lot from me, so much so that I can't really express it. My first fight was just a month and 14 days after. I just had to do it."
But doing it against trained professionals, even on a smaller show, was risky. Foster knew there was a chance he could be beaten up, that he might lose to someone who had been around the game and had trained far longer.
None of it mattered to him, though. Being pummeled was the final thing on his mind. He had some pain of his own to inflict and if that meant he took a few shots in the mouth in the process, well, that's what it would have to be.
"The pain I was feeling," Foster said, "what they might inflict upon me could be nowhere near that. That being said, I took all of my emotion and all of my anger and threw it at them to see if they could handle it."
Few of his opponents have handled what he's dealt out. He's 13-4 overall and has already earned a place among the UFC's better welterweights.
He was supposed to fight Paul Daley at UFC 103, but injuries to other fighters forced Daley to move up on the card and Foster took on Story. After that fight, they gave him Larson, who entered last November's UFC 106 bout with a 26-3 record and the much bigger reputation.
From the early moments of that fight, however, it was clear Larson had little chance. Foster's punches were taking an early toll on Larson, a point that did not shock Foster's coach, Marc Fiore.
Foster trains at the Matt Hughes-owned HIT Squad in Granite City, Ill., and has already developed a reputation as perhaps the gym's hardest hitter.
"His bones are hard, he hits hard and he's just a natural puncher," Fiore said. "His mechanics are so good that he even hits harder. No one wants to go with Brian in our gym, but the guys know that if they go with him, they're going to get better.
"They feel that if they give Brian a good look, that there aren't going to be too many strikers they're going to face outside who hit like Brian."
Power is Foster's forte, but he's managed to round off his game in an incredibly short time. He was incredibly nervous on the night he fought Story, calm until the minute he walked to the area near the Octagon to be greased for the fight.
American Airlines Arena was full and it was then that it dawned on Foster that he'd hit the big time. His heart was beating and he wasn't the relaxed killer he'd been to that stage of his career.
"I made a lot of mistakes because I kept rushing," he said.
Story is one of the UFC's strongest fighters and in the second round, he took Foster down and submitted him with an arm triangle choke.
Foster, though, was much calmer against Larson and proved he was a quick learner, despite his inexperience.
"The mistakes I made against [Story], I fixed in that fight [against Larson]," Foster said. He's even allowed himself to dream of fighting for the title. He would seem to be a long way from contention, even if he defeats the highly regarded Lytle.
No matter what happens, he'll never say no to a fight and he'll never be intimidated, he said.
"After what I've been through in my life, hey, a fight's just a fight," he said. "I'll do what I have to do. This is what I am now: A fighter. I was kind of meant to be a fighter, I guess, and now, here I am."
- Brian Foster
- Brandon Foster