It’s called mixed martial arts, although people unfamiliar with one of the world’s fastest-growing sports might view it as mayhem. It’s a fast, intense combat sport, and many call it brutal.
Mike Brown is one if its stars, winning the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) featherweight title in November 2008 in a first-round knockout over defending champion Urijah Faber. A native of Portland, Maine, he was introduced to mixed martial arts by Norwich roommate Gunnar Olsen, Class of 2001, a fellow wrestler and member of Norwich’s jiu-jitsu club. Olsen now coaches wrestling at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vt.
That Brown ever had a professional fighting career is remarkable, due to a neck injury he suffered the summer after his first year at Norwich. He temporarily lost about 70 percent of his left-arm strength and needed surgery to repair a bulging spinal disc that pinched the limb’s motor nerves.
Brown was not cleared to compete or even practice for his entire freshman year. Although numbness persisted for a few years, he was still eager to compete with the Norwich wrestling squad. Frustrating as it was, Brown continued to work on conditioning and technique, and he encouraged his teammates.
He was a stellar example of a student-athlete, bringing focus and discipline from the wrestling mat into the classroom. Hardly a star student in high school, he graduated near the top of his class with a major in biology and a minor in physical education.
Brown’s professional career began in 2001, shortly after he graduated from Norwich, and reached its peak with his 2008 championship title. After retiring in 2014, Brown now trains world-class fighters for American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., the team with which he fought for many years.
And the proud legacy of Norwich wrestling carries on. Kaylee Krizan ’18, chose to attend Norwich as a civilian because it was the only university that invited her to try out for their all-male wrestling team. You can read her story here.
Adapted from a 2008 story by Gary Frank.