Back in November 2006, at a Tampa Bay-based Real Fighting Championships event, Matt Arroyo first met Matt Brown. It was before either fighter would go on to earn notoriety for their stints on separate seasons of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
In fact, it was just the second professional fight of Arroyo’s career.
That night, the more experienced fighter, Matt Brown, walked away with the win. Ever since, Matt Arroyo has been waiting on the day when he would face Brown again for the chance to redeem himself and avenge the only loss of his career.
He’ll get that opportunity tomorrow night at the TUF 7 "Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest" Finale. The event takes place at the Pearl in the Palms in Las Vegas and airs live on Spike TV, starting at 9 p.m. ET. It’s a three-hour broadcast.
We caught up with Arroyo to ask him about that first meeting with Brown (he was good enough to give us an entire play-by-play), how his game has improved since then and what he thinks about the other TUF 7 fighters’ seemingly high regard for his opponent.
Things aren’t always as they seem.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You’re set to face Matt Brown at The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 Finale tomorrow. This is a rematch from a November 2006 fight in which Brown handed you your only loss via TKO in the second round. For those fans out there who haven’t had the opportunity to view that fight, could you give us a quick recap on what happened?
Matt Arroyo: Yeah, it was my second fight. I came out … my guy had backed out. I was training for a particular fight, and he backed out the day before weigh-ins. Brown had fought, I think, a week earlier, and he was at weigh-ins about to corner somebody for that event. My manager and trainer was really mad that the guy backed out at the last minute, and we were telling the promoter, "You gotta get us somebody, you gotta get us somebody."
They were just looking around the weigh-ins, and they saw Brown. They saw he had cauliflower ear and thought that he might be a fighter. It turns out he was a fighter — he had about eight or nine fights at the time — and they asked him if he would fight me the next day. He asked about me, and they were like, "He’s got one fight, he’s pretty good," and this and that. So Matt being the guy he is, he took the fight.
So we fought. We came out the first round … my game plan back then was to get him to the ground as fast as I could and use my submission skills. We had a short exchange at the beginning, and then I took him down. He was able to get right back up and tried to take me down. I put him in a guillotine and almost ended the fight. He slipped out and ended up in my guard. I was working my submissions from my guard. I went for an armbar, slipped it in, and he stood up. His game plan was to keep it on the feet, so when I opened my legs to do the armbar, he was able to get up.
So then I got up and took him down again after another exchange. I didn’t have much luck with him on the ground — (laughs) I was slowly losing all my energy from taking him down so much. He got up again. We did some striking and got in the clinch — hitting each other from the clinch. I took him down again. Same thing. Got up. And then on my, I think it was my third or fourth takedown attempt, I was just about spent. I shot in for the takedown, he was able to get mount in the last eight seconds of the first round. I was defending his mount, I was holding onto him, and the bell rang after the first round.
Second round, I was exhausted, I had nothing left. I came out. He was pretty tired too, but with his experience, he was able to relax and stay more composed than I was, because I had never been in this situation before — this tired from fighting. So I came out and just the will to want to win, I was able to take him down two more times. I wasn’t able to do anything, though, once he was down, I was basically just resting. And I went for one final submission, I went for an ankle lock or heel hook or something. He was able to get position off the missed submission and take mount.
(Laughs) I could tell how exhausted he was throwing strikes at me from the mount. I was exhausted, I couldn’t get out. I was defending pretty good — it kind of reminded me of … maybe like Brandon Vera (vs. Fabricio Werdum at UFC 85) — I was defending myself, but I wasn’t getting out either. The ref was like, "You want out?" I’m like, "No." And then he was like, "Well, you’re not getting out." So they had to stop it. It was about halfway through the second round.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): So would you say that you were winning the first round and up until that point?
Matt Arroyo: I would say that I definitely won the first round. They may have scored it pretty close because he mounted me at the very end of it, but I was controlling the whole fight, I took him down three or four times in the first round. So I would say I won 10-9 first round. Second round, I was controlling him, I was winning the second round until the very end.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well like you said, that was just the second fight of your professional career, and I think it was Brown’s seventh fight. Obviously, you’ve come a long way since then. How has your game improved since that time, which Matt Brown might not be aware of?
Matt Arroyo: I’ve had four fights since then and four wins, all first round submissions. I just got more experience now. I can stay calm in there now, I know when I’m going for my submissions how to breathe, I know when I’m wrestling how to breathe. My mentality entirely changed. My strength was always jiu-jitsu, and I was always rushing it. I mean, I got 15 minutes, and I only have to submit the guy once. So I keep that mentality and not rush it.
My jiu-jitsu got way better from that time. I didn’t even know how to strike on the ground at that point, I was just using my Brazilian jiu-jitsu pretty much. Now I’m a good striker on the ground. I know how to strike from the guard, I know how to strike from underneath the guard, side mount and all that good stuff.
My wrestling improved — and I was able to take him down then — and my wrestling’s improved dramatically since then. And my standup — I’m not scared to stay on my feet anymore. Back then there was so much urgency to get it to the ground that it kind of mentally took it out of me when he kept getting up. I was like, "Man…" Now if it stays on the feet and I can’t get him down, no biggy. I can stand and strike with him now.
I know about him now, you know. Last time, I had no clue who the kid was. I just went in there and was like, "Alright, I’m gonna take him down and submit him." I didn’t realize how tough he was. Now I know. I’ve already been in there with him, so that takes away a lot of the nerves, and it takes away a lot of the mystique about it.
I’ve seen him on the show. I know he’s definitely improved too since our fight. It looks like he’s been working on his takedown defense a little bit. His striking has always been pretty good. His jiu-jitsu is decent — it’s not great, I’d say it’s average. I don’t think he’s been working on that as much.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): So you’ve been watching the TUF 7 show?
Matt Arroyo: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Well ever since I knew I was fighting him, I started watching a little closer. Yeah, I actually enjoyed this season a lot. Obviously I watched his fights closer than most. The other ones I was just watching for fun. This one — this is business, you know? Studying it and seeing his tendencies.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): On the season, the other fighters in the house seemed to have a high regard for him — always talking about Matt Brown and how fierce of a fighter he is. But at the end of the day, he still has a .500 record. Were you a bit surprised by his reputation in the house?
Matt Arroyo: Yeah. I talked with people on the show about that too, and they were actually quite surprised that they played it like that. Because they weren’t really thinking of him like that on the show, they told me. They were just kinda making almost like a joke about it, like, "Uh … I’m Matt Brown." You know? Like, "Hey mutha F-er, I’m Matt Brown." You know, stuff like that.
But he had the look, he was fierce in there, and he was a gamer. So they took it upon themselves, the editors, to portray him as a Billy Badass — which is good, I think. I think it’s really good. It makes everybody think that the guy is Superman, which we saw he isn’t in his fight with Amir. I think it’s better for me, because I think I’m going to beat him, so it makes me look better.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): During the taping of TUF 6, you eliminated Dorian Price and Troy Mandaloniz to reach the semi-finals, but in the process suffered a rib injury, which forced you out of the competition. You caught some flak for that from some critics who thought you might have been using it as an excuse to dodge Mac Danzig. As someone who has broken and/or bruised just about every rib in my body, I fully understand the mobility problems that come with such an injury. Do you regret your decision to pull out of that fight?
Matt Arroyo: Absolutely not. No, definitely not. I think it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It was a lose-lose situation, I feel, if I would have gone in there. 1. I could have gotten hurt worse; and 2. I didn’t see myself winning against a guy like Danzig if I’m not 100%. So there really wasn’t any incentive for me to do it.
Pretty much things have been working out since then. I won at the Finale. I took a nice little break, couple of months off, and now I’m back at it, training, 100 percent healthy, focused, and I got a nice fight coming up Saturday. Things have been going great. I mean, I’m not on the main card, and I didn’t make it into the (TUF6) Finale finals, but I’m still here, man.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, I understand that there is a weight class difference now, but if given the opportunity, would you ever want to fight Mac Danzig?
Matt Arroyo: Yeah, why not? If the opportunity came along. I can’t get to 55, I’m too tall. But if they want to set it up in the future — if Mac comes to 70, I would fight him.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): What weight do you normally walk around at?
Matt Arroyo: 180, 185. Especially for this training camp, I had a full-time strength and conditioning coach for this one. His name is Chris Barton. He’s a trainer in Tampa. He’s awesome. He helped me out a lot. He worked with me six days a week every morning on my conditioning and strength. I gained five pounds of muscle in eight weeks of training. I’m 10 times stronger than I was, I’m faster and my cardio is better than it’s ever been.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Back in December at the TUF 6 Finale, you beat John Kolosci via armbar in the very first round. While it was a beautiful armbar, if I’m being honest, I don’t see Kolosci as being the same caliber as some of the other UFC fighters. Do you agree, and if so, do you think you still have something to prove this Saturday against Brown, who might be a step up from Kolosci?
Matt Arroyo: I don’t know. I don’t really put that kind of pressure on myself. Whoever I fight, I’m going to fight to the best of my ability, and if I fight to the best of my ability, I think I can beat, you know, whoever. So, no, I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself at all. It’s already done in my head. I just have to get out there and do it.
Kolosci definitely needs improvements if he wants to be competitive here. But, on the other hand, his strength is in people’s guards. If he’s going to win a fight it’s going to be ground and pound from the top. So I was able to submit him when he was in his strongest position.
I would say his stand-up’s not ready, and his guard isn’t ready for the UFC. But if you look at his record, all of his wins were from TKO from the top. He wasn’t really able to land a good shot on me. I was trying to submit him the whole time, and I knew it was just a matter of time, and I finally got him.
I would say that in that position he’s pretty good. I mean, he was defending a lot of stuff, and I think my guard is a lot more active than most — trying to throw up submissions. Most people just use it to get up or use it to sweep or just to defend themselves. Where I’m just constantly throwing up submissions, it’s what I’m used to, it’s how I’ve always fought and done my jiu-jitsu. And eventually, you’re going to get caught.
I think I faced him where he’s strongest, so I think that was pretty good. But I don’t think he’s on the level of other UFC fighters — maybe not even the average UFC fighter — in the other areas. His takedowns are decent and his ground and pound and top game is pretty decent.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Outside of fighting, what’s the deal with the Amazing Race? I’ve seen your audition tape, I think a ton of people have. You and Allen Berube.
Matt Arroyo: Yeah, that was a while ago. That got shut down before it even started.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Have you tried out again since then?
Matt Arroyo: No, I’m not allowed to. In our contract, we’re not allowed to do shows.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I heard something about you and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Where you at a game doing some kind of teaching exercise, or were you in a fight or something?
Matt Arroyo: I was going to do a grappling match against another guy at the Devil Rays game. They asked me to do it. At first I was interested, but … it seemed kind of corny. They were just going to set the mat up over home plate, and we didn’t know if it was going to make T.V. or not. We were trying to get sponsors out of it, but we weren’t allowed to do that, so it just wasn’t really worth it. And that was the same day as UFC in Canada, and I was scheduled to go there, so I chose that instead.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well hey, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us, and I know there are a lot of TUF fans out there who are looking forward to your fight on Saturday. Lastly, would you like to thank any sponsors, or do you have any parting words for your fans?
Matt Arroyo: Yeah, I’d like to thank MMA Warehouse, Cage Fighter, Sprawl, Stagr, Zappos. I’d like to thank Rob Kahn, Chris Barton, Gabe Maldonado, Allen "Monstah Lobstah" Berube and all my training partners. There’s like 10 of ‘em.