An Interview with Chris Brennan
Chris Brennan, also known as The Westside Strangler is an American Mixed Martial Artist who was born in California in 1971. He has been in the world of MMA for many years both as a fighter and now as a trainer in the industry. He is 3 times King of the Cage Champion and the founder of NGMMA (Next Generation Mixed Martial Arts). He boasts an impressive 20 wins in his fighting career, 19 of which came by KO or Submission. Chris was kind enough to allow me an interview and an insight into his life both in the fighting field and beyond.
For many fighters, fighting within the UFC is the ultimate for their career. Chris has fought for many different organisations around the world and has fond and not so fond memories of them. I wanted to know which he liked and disliked and if he feels UFC really is the pinnacle for fighters. Speaking of Pride he says it was an awesome experience as far as atmosphere goes and says the fans were amazing, especially considering he wasn’t even a superstar but he was treated the best by the fight organisation Warrior Quest, Hawaii. Warrior Quest was run by the Kamaka brothers and Chris feels because they were fighters; they knew exactly how to treat other fighters and how to provide for their needs. He feels regret that at the time there wasn’t a market for their expertise and due to the financial pressure they could no longer afford to keep the business open. When it comes to UFC Chris feels it really is the pinnacle and the place that showcases the very best fighters and puts on the best events in the world of MMA. He says everyone wants to be a part of UFC and has respect for Dana White who he says has made a monster event and smart business decisions. Not everyone agrees with Dana’s decisions but as Chris points out, the majority of his decisions over the years must have been spot on or else it wouldn’t be where it is today.
A lot of fighters become interested in fighting themselves because they see UFC on the television and think ‘I want to do that’ and Chris was no different. He watched Royce Gracie fight and it was between UFC 1 and UFC 2 that he started training in BJJ. In an incredibly short time of eight years, Chris passed his black belt in BJJ but feels had he stayed training under one school, he would have achieved it even quicker. He left the Gracie Academy having felt that he didn’t agree with some of the things that happened there. He then went to Rickson’s where he feels he fell between the cracks and then started training at various other places until finally people opened their eyes and saw the skills that he had, especially on the mat against guys who were higher in belts. Sadly every teacher Chris visited had a financial game plan and the need to promote him which Chris himself says he wasn’t interested in. It wasn’t about the money or the promotion; it was about the fighting for him.
Having fought at different weight classes I wondered what division Chris felt most comfortable fighting in and he says he fought at 185 and 155 but it was at 170 that he was at his best. Being athletic and physically strong from body building and faster than most guys, Chris felt that at 155 although he was strong, the weight cut wasn’t for him and he has found he fights the best at 170.
I am always interested in any superstitions that fighters have and usually in interviews I am told ‘nothing’ or ‘not really’ so I was pleasantly surprised when Chris told me he does indeed have a superstition that is not only fitting for the fighting world but also for his everyday life. What is it? Whenever Chris dresses, everything he puts on has to be put on left side first! He also has to use four q-tips! And the secret he has about his mouth piece, well I am afraid I couldn’t get that one out of him, but I’ll work at it for a future edition!
In the MMA world there are always going to be ups and downs so I wondered what Chris felt were his highlights and lowlights. He says that fighting within the UFC and Pride was a huge highlight for him along with his knockout of Antonio McKee and subbing Eiji Mitsuoka in the first Bushido, two times in one fight live on TV. I watched back the replays of these fights and being a fan of any type of kick I have to say the KO of McKee was indeed spectacular and had me out of my chair, especially as the first round was a lot of grappling.
As well as these two great memories Chris feels he has had a great career and is very happy with it. He feels the low points are any loss that he had and believes that out of his twelve losses he could honestly have won nine. At times he felt he had to fight because he needed the money and that left him unprepared which he says is unfair to the promoter, the fans and even his opponent. He says he has lost to worse guys and won against some great ones. When fighting Chris feels he uses his mental ability and if his head isn’t in the game he isn’t going to perform. Now he feels he is in the right place and will be for the remainder of his career.
Fighting professionally for the first time must leave fighters nervous but when Chris started out there was no such thing as amateur fights so all of his fights were professional. He says he was so excited about fighting and just wanted to do it. Being paid for the first time left him feeling elated because he felt he was then a professional athlete. He feels that from that point on he had to deal with a lot of negatives and needed to get past those feelings and at times he definitely did but at other times he didn’t.
I haven’t come across any fighters in my limited time writing about MMA that do not have the support of friends and family. I am sure there must be some out there but with Chris he had the support he needed. His Mum was a little wary but his Dad was very supportive and attended a lot of his early fights. His brothers were also supportive and also trained. As I can imagine, his wife was very nervous at each fight and referring to the Antonio McKee fight, she saw McKee’s wife and it hit her that it could so easily be the other way round. But she supported Chris in his training leading up to fights and gave him all the encouragement he needed, watching just made her nervous which is to be expected. Chris feels a lot of his actions in the industry have put tremendous strain on his family and he still feels at the age of 39 that he is still growing up and becoming a better person. With the support he obviously has, we will still be hearing a lot about Chris in the years to come.
Moving on to early life I asked Chris about his childhood and how he felt moving around so much. He tells me that he lived in nineteen different houses by the time he was eighteen. I myself have lived in many houses, although not as many but being a girl it was a little different for me. Did all these moves have any diverse effect on Chris and does he feel if he had stayed in one place that his life would have been different. Chris finds it hard to know how life may have turned out but having been to many different schools and living in many different areas he feels looking back that it was quite crazy and from early on, he found himself involved in countless street fights!
Before Chris was a fighter, he used to do Bouncing work but also worked with his Dad and Brother in the construction industry. Luckily for fight fans, he felt that wasn’t the life for him but still has a lot of respect for the work that his family do day in day out.
Chris is one to pressure himself to achieve his best which is evident in the MMA world but I wonder if he is the same in everyday life. He is quick to point out that he is not perfect but at the same time he tries not to make excuses and feels as an adult he has to be responsible for his actions and not blame them on any number of things, he could. Within the sporting world he feels he has always preferred sports where only he can be responsible for the outcome because when it is just you, you can only blame yourself and not let anyone else down. He gives a good example of where the Columbia football player scored an own goal and was later shot and killed. If you do something where only you are responsible, you are the only one who can feel upset and let down.
With the knowledge that research is being carried out to prove that MMA as a sport is safe I wondered how Chris feels about the people who say the sport is dangerous. He thinks that people only watch one event and they literally freak out. Nowadays the sport is so big that more people realise that it isn’t barbaric and that it is actually a very disciplined sport which requires intense training. He points out that there are very few injuries in comparison with the number of people who actually train in MMA these days.
Chris not only fights but also started an Academy in California which has spread to other countries around the world including Canada and England. I asked him how he finds the time to involve himself in the academies and if he ever realised it would grow from one branch in California to the several he now has. He says he is very involved in each school and travels a few times each year to each place to teach seminars and do belt promotions amongst other things. He is proud of how successful the academies are and is pleased to finally be opening a full time school in Frisco, Texas.
With all the hard work he puts in at the academies, I am interested to know if it is easy to spot whether someone new to MMA has the potential to make it. Chris says you can usually tell straight away either from the natural athleticism people possess or the hunger they have to learn or even someone not so talented but who has the heart and drive to learn and succeed. He says the ones with the raw determination are the ones that are dangerous. And as is the standard, he says he meets people all the time who want to be UFC fighters, most people who think of the cage only associate it with UFC when there is a much broader spectrum.
So with the potential talent being easy to spot Chris has good advice for people just starting out. He advises you to learn the arts. Not to just train in MMA but to learn JJ, Wrestling and Muay Thai and when doing so, choose a place to learn that can incorporate all the disciplines for you. He feels it is very important and separates the good guys from the tough guys.
Having spoken to a few people in the MMA world recently, most do not have time for any other hobbies but Chris must have more energy than most because he also loves to race in motocross, something he started last year. He is doing really well and aside from one race, he has finished on the podium in every race he has entered. He likes to point out that this sport requires a lot of guts and this is something he most definitely has and has been told he has. He has always enjoyed watching the sport and has trained riders for their conditioning but once he started riding, he was hooked.
Now living in Texas, Chris has travelled to various places in the world and I wondered if anywhere compares to home. He is quick to tell me that nowhere in the world compares to home because the food just isn’t as good anywhere else. However he holds Guam and Hawaii close to his heart and of course, loves coming to the UK! Canada he feels is very beautiful and although he is unable to enter there at the moment, it is noted that he says ‘I will be back’! The people in Japan are the worst he has come across as they were rude to his wife and his sister in law when they were out shopping. The same people later treated them totally different because Chris was with them so unless you are a fighter I’d steer clear of Japan.
I feel we have got to know a lot about Chris Brennan both as a fighter and as a person but I am always after that little something that no one else has probed. I haven’t unearthed any deadly secrets but Chris does let me know that he is a snorer who can never sleep, something that drives him crazy. He is also tells me that before all of his fights he used to be physically sick. Alongside the fact he loves massages and feels he is insecure, something he is working on, he says he loves fighting and sometimes wishes he could plant one on a few deserving people he sees in the street. Apparently I have a brother somewhere in the world and I wonder if it is Chris as we seem to have a lot of the same characteristics, obviously other than the athleticism side!
So if he could change everything would he? He says yes and no. He wishes he hadn’t taken some of the fights he took but at the same time says he probably would again because at the time he needed to. He also says he would not let some of the promoters get away with some of the things they did and he says with conviction that he would ultimately be a better person, not as a fighter, just as a person.
My time with Chris has come to an end although to be honest, I could have asked a hundred more questions and lead off questions, because despite what Chris says, I think he is a great guy and has given some fantastic answers for this interview. I feel he answered as him and not what he thought people wanted to hear and there are not many people who are stars and champions who still do that. So I just want to say thank you to Chris for his time and honesty and I’d love to catch up in the future for another project, so watch this space……..