What defines a champion? When it comes to mixed martial arts, is it simply a matter of a man or woman hoisting up a large shiny belt at the end of a bout or, instead, is it something extending far beyond bling? Genuine appreciation for the sport, a work ethic never slowed by the weight of gold, continued humility in the face of grand achievement, a tireless drive to be the best fighter possible, and the internal fortitude to keep getting back up no matter what knockdowns you encounter are but a few of the colors one could paint on the canvas along the way to defining greatness; more simply said, someone who doesn’t need an oversized belt buckle to be considered a true champion.

WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown is such an individual…and he just happens to have a pretty nice strap with his name on it to boot!

Brown will be a approximately a month shy of being a professional mixed martial artist for eight years come March 1st, 2009, when he defends his WEC title for the first time after taking it from Urijah Faber in brutal TKO fashion last November. Along the path to knocking the sunshine out of “The California Kid,” the current WEC champ has seen action all over the world against notable opponents like Hermes Franca, Joe Lauzon, Mark Hominick, Yves Edwards, Jeff Curran, and the ever-entertaining Genki Sudo, many times being forced to fight in his career at 155-pounds as did many American featherweights prior to the relatively recent explosion in MMA’s popularity.

However, from size disadvantages to having to defend his title in Leonard Garcia’s home-state to injury rehab to the high caliber of opponents he’s faced or less than ideal situations he’s dealt with, you’ll never find Mike Brown complain. In fact, it’s rare to ever hear a negative word from him even when discussing his peers or future match-ups, something that again adds to the high level respect he deserves.

He is 20-4, has never been beaten via decision, and even more impressively has never been knocked out in his career. He is riding an eight-fight win streak including two straight in the WEC. He collects MMA-related memorabilia and was following Mixed Martial Arts long before he ever entered a cage himself. He is Mike Brown and he is the subject of this interview where, among other things, he’ll discuss a few of his fellow WEC featherweights, the prospect of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto signing with the Zuffa-owned organization, and even offers message for Leonard Garcia that’s likely to induce more smiles from the top 145-pound contender than bulletin board material for use as motivation…

Brendhan Conlan: Most media outlets consider you to be the top 145-pound fighter in the world. Does that sort of subjective accolade mean much to you? Do you feel any additional pressure to perform based on the perception you are the top Mixed Martial Artist in your weight class?

Mike Brown: It feels good to get the recognition. I’m a fan and follow the ranking, but at the end of the day those rankings are just somebody’s opinion. You’re only as good as your last fight…so when you lose, you’re gone!

Brendhan Conlan: When fans last saw you inside the cage you were busy knocking Urijah Faber out in the process of winning the WEC Featherweight Championship. How has your life changed in the nearly three months since that night? Likewise, how has your approach to training or the sport/business changed (if at all) now that you’re sporting a golden target around your waist?

Brown: I train hard for every fight. I’m always nervous and hate to lose so I’m always training like a madman. Not much has changed. I get recognized more and I do more interviews..that’s about it.

Brendhan Conlan: It was reported that you tore some rib cartilage in the Faber fight. How long have you been back to going at full speed in the gym? Have you experienced any nagging effects from the injury?

Brown: The ribs were healed in like three weeks. I’m feeling great and feel no more pain.

Brendhan Conlan: On March 1 at WEC 39, you will be defending your featherweight title for the first time in bout against Leonard Garcia. How excited are you to get back into the cage and test your skills against an opponent of his caliber?

Brown: I’m so excited! I want to cement myself down as the champion. You have to defend that belt to be a true champion, (so) that’s what I have to do.

Brendhan Conlan: With the event still being about a month away, can you tell fans what your training routine currently looks like and how you anticipate it will change over the next few weeks as you prepare for the Garcia fight?

Brown: I’m just training hard, following the schedule at ATT. It’s easy – I just show up and let my coaches handle it. They will have me ready. I’m actually already in great shape and could fight tomorrow.

Brendhan Conlan: Leonard’s nickname is “Bad Boy”. At WEC 39, should he be prepared to meet a “bad man”?

Brown: Well I dont know if I’m a bad guy or not, but I do know that I can fight. He will be ready…I’m certain of that.

Brendhan Conlan: Garcia is known for his stand-up but actually has nearly three times as many submissions on his record as he does knockouts. How dangerous an opponent is he? Without giving away too much of your gameplan, how are you approaching what he brings to the table from a strategic standpoint? Are you focused on any one aspect of his skill set?

Brown: He started out as a BJJ kind of fighter and has now refined his striking. I think he has discovered he has some punching power. In a lot of ways we are the same. I see us both swinging for the fences and looking for the homerun.

Brendhan Conlan: WEC 39 is taking place in Corpus Christi, Texas and Leonard Garcia happens to be a native Texan. What are your thoughts on having to defend the championship in essentially your opponent’s backyard? Is any extra motivation created by the thought of potentially beating him in front of a crowd that will no doubt be heavily biased in his favor?

Brown: No extra motivation. I want to win every fight badly. Any loss will depress me. I’m always motivated to win no matter where we fight; Texas, Florida, or on the moon!

Brendhan Conlan: Why should fans expect something other than a decision come March 1st? Will you be looking for a knockout, submission, or simply waiting to take advantage of what becomes available as the fight progresses?

Brown: I think we both have a high percentage of finishing our opponents and this is a five-rounder. That’s plenty of time to set something up and to finish.

Brendhan Conlan: There is no question that the WEC’s featherweight division is stacked with talent. One of the many names attracting attention from media/fans these days is Jose Aldo. What is your opinion of Aldo as a fighter? How much potential do you see in the young Brazilian based on any observations or interactions you’ve had with him?

Brown: He looks tough. Strong powerful kicks, solid all around stand up. We haven’t seen the other parts of his game yet, but wow he is a tough kid and only 22.

Brendhan Conlan: Speaking of top 145-pounders, there have been long-time rumors about the possibility of “Kid” Yamamoto testing his skills inside the WEC and further cementing the organization’s status as having the best featherweights in the world. Dana White recently added fuel to the fire by mentioning his name in a video blog as someone Zuffa was pursuing. What is your take on “Kid” as a fighter? Is he someone you’re especially interested in stepping into the cage against?

Brown: “Kid” is a tough fighter – good wrestling, good kickboxing, and a great athlete. I think WEC has the best fighters in the world at 145. (Yamamoto) would be a great addition to the mix of talent. I want to fight the best and I welcome him to come to the WEC.

Brendhan Conlan: The winner of your WEC 39 bout will likely be facing Urijah Faber for the right to continue calling himself WEC Featherweight Champion. You were in attendance at WEC 38 when Faber was able to submit Jens Pulver in the first round to earn the opportunity to contend for the belt. What did you think of the rematch between the two featherweight greats? Though the fight was only 94 seconds long, did you see anything new from Urijah that surprised/impressed you?

Brown: Urijah looked sharp. He subbed Jens under two minutes. What can you really say about that? I have to worry about Garcia, nothing else, right now.

Brendhan Conlan: Being not only an actual Mixed Martial Artist but also a huge fan of MMA, what was going through your mind during Jens Pulver’s emotional post-fight speech? Did you have a chance to talk to him after the event? If so, what was said? What are your thoughts on “Little Evil” in general?

Brown: No, I didnt talk to Jens. I dont really know him on personal level, but I am a big fan of his. Anytime he speaks or gives an interview it’s moving. He always speaks from the heart and is filled with emotion. I was getting a little choked up after his fight. I think “relevant” was kind of a bad word to choose talking about Jens’ career.

Brendhan Conlan: Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions and offer a little insight into your world. Any final messages for fans, Leonard Garcia, or any other fighters who might be reading these lines?

Brown: Hey Leonard, relax and have a beer, no rush. I’m having a little vacation, eating cheese burgers and french fries. No need to train.. You got this one no problem… I wish he would believe all that.

Fans can find out more about WEC Featherweight Champion Mike Brown by visiting his website or checking out American Top Team on the internet.