If there's a more difficult and demanding job in sports than being a professional fighter, I haven't run across it yet. Getting kicked and punched in the head for a living is only a part of the challenges a fighter faces.
Imagine trying to shed 20 pounds in a week while eating virtually nothing and drinking little. Then, think about having to smile for the cameras while suffering so badly you think you might pass out. Now, you have at least an idea of what it's like for those who fight for a living.
It's easy to forget that behind their snarling visages and muscular bodies are fathers and sons and brothers, real people with spouses and children who need their time and attention. These are people with bills to pay, obligations to fulfill and legitimate concerns about job security. They just happen to be very good at something most of us never want to even try.
Then, a guy like Charlie Brenneman comes along and handles the most difficult situations with style and grace and it helps explain why mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport in the world.
Brenneman is a welterweight who will meet Kyle Noke at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
He's probably best known now for a series of tweets he sent out on Aug. 23 after learning that UFC 151 had been canceled when Dan Henderson was injured and Jon Jones wouldn't fight any other opponent on that night.
Brenneman was supposed to fight on that card – which would have been Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas – and had his world crushed as he was walking out of practice in Hoboken, N.J.
He went to Twitter where he wrote, "Me n @rick_story took a fight on 24 hrs notice!! Champ what?!?! @ufc" He later tweeted directly to Jones, jokingly asking Jones to pay his rent for him.
It was an eye-opening moment for Brenneman, as he suddenly went from a mid-level guy looking to make his way in the sport to a fighter very much in demand.
"It was kind of neat, to be honest," Brenneman said. "As fighters, we have ups and downs, good performances, bad performances. That directly affects how much attention is paid to us. Some people, like Ronda Rousey and Chael [Sonnen], they're good at talking themselves into the spotlight.
"I had an explosion [of interest] after I fought Story and that lasted a couple of months, and then it seems like everyone forgets about you. It was neat/funny that I made one little less than 140-character comment and it ends up on 'SportsCenter.' It's been fun. It's how I sincerely feel and it's not vulgar or negative in any way, but to see the life of its own that it's taken is pretty cool."
Brenneman, though, showed his true style not in the way he handled himself in the wake of the UFC 151 postponement, but rather how he dealt with a far more tragic situation.
On June 7, the day before he was to fight Eric Silva in Sunrise, Fla., Brenneman received a message from the wife of one of his best friends, Don Messing. She asked Brenneman to call her.
It turned out that the 42-year-old Messing, who had been Brenneman's strength and conditioning coach, had died of a heart attack.
Brenneman was only a few hours away from the weigh-in when he got the news.
It was heart-wrenching. He not only had to deal with the loss of his long-time friend, but also he still had to lose weight to fight the next day.
Thousands of fans in the arena roared when Silva submitted Brenneman, blissfully unaware of the tragedy and the pain that Brenneman was carrying. This hurt more than any punch, any kick, any knee ever could.
Nobody would have blamed him when he heard the news on the morning of the weigh-in had he chose not to fight. Brenneman, though, is a keenly aware sort who knew the implications of walking away.
That would mean that Silva would lose a paycheck and so would his team. Fans would be deprived of the fight.
And so he went forward despite very much wanting to jump on the next plane home and begin the grieving process.
"I handled it as best I could and I kept it in," Brenneman said. "I kept it from the media, from the public, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I understood I had a job to do and I had to go through with the fight and do my best. But looking back, mentally, I was thinking about Don while I was in the fight and that's never a good combo."
Compared to Messing's death, handling the cancelation of a card and the delay of a paycheck was not very much to ask.
He was priming himself mentally to fight and suddenly had to readjust so many things.
It's that human side fans and media often aren't aware of or don't think about that is frequently the toughest for the fighters to handle.
"Everyone talks about the financial aspects of it, but I was primed to fight this Saturday," Brenneman said. "[The cancelation] caused me to sit back and reevaluate what I should be doing this week. … Honestly speaking, it does [take work to handle the mental side of it].
"Going into a fight, there is obviously the physical preparation, but there's also a mental preparation, getting yourself primed for that fight on that Saturday night and then counting on and being anxious for that next morning. Then, all that pressure's off and you can just kind of feel free for a bit. You build psychologically to that climax and that regrouping period. It's something now I have to wait for and start all over."
He's handled some of the most unimaginable situations with style and grace. It's a testament to his character and the man he is, but he said it's all part of a team effort.
He said his growth in that regard is due in large part to his brother, Ben, and his trainer/manager, Mike Constantino.
"I'm a lot more mature and I'm a lot more patient," he said. "When I was coming up, I'm a pretty impulsive person. So, if a sponsor would deny me or someone would say something, I would get really heated really fast. My brother, Ben, helps me out with every aspect of the game and with Mike Constantino as my manager, those guys have really taught me obviously the fighting aspects.
"But they've also taught me how to interact with people, how to deal with certain situations, when to keep my mouth open, when to keep my mouth shut. It's funny, but it's only two years later and seven fights later [after debuting in the UFC], but I really and truly feel like a veteran compared to guys who have one, two, three fights in the UFC. That's like being a freshman when you walk onto campus and you try your hardest not to look like a freshman and just blend in, but everyone knows, 'Yeah, he's a freshman.' "
Brenneman is clearly no freshman in this often crazy fighting business. As he's shown in these past few months, he's become a guy who just aced his doctorate in fight-game professionalism.
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