Charlie Brenneman: Dreams Do Come True

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011 by Tony Reid

Charlie Brenneman

Long before it even became a remote possibility, Charlie Brenneman had dreamed about fighting for the UFC and in an event close to home. He even prophesized such to a college roommate. “I vividly remember telling him that. I just got home from work, I wasn’t real happy I wanted to do something.  To be able to leave home, start at ground zero work my way up, get to the UFC, fight in the UFC and then have it come back so close to home it really has come full circle. To me I can’t see fighting anywhere better than in Pittsburgh.” As soon as the location and venue were announced for the June UFC  4 on Versus card, which was scheduled to be held in Pittsburgh, PA., that dream came much closer to becoming a reality. But Brenneman was let down and thought his opportunity had passed after the fight card had been filled out, sans the Spaniard. There was an undercard bout scheduled between Matt Riddle and TJ Grant that Brenneman would factor into in a major way in the upcoming weeks. Riddle was initially injured and had to pullout of the fight and guess who got the call to replace him? You guessed it, Charlie. So he was on cloud nine preparing to fight in what could easily be considered his back yard.

Brenneman is a native of Hollidaysburg, PA, which is less than 100 miles east of Pittsburgh and he was now poised to make, quite possibly, his wildest dream come true, fighting so close to home. The Spaniard burst onto the scene and into sports fans consciousness when he and his brother won the first season of Pros vs. Joes going head to head with elite athletes from other sports such as Herschel Walker and Bill Goldberg, two familiar names to MMA heads.  After college his competitive nature took a backseat to pursuing a career in the real world as a high school Spanish teacher. The opportunity on the show reignited his competitive fires. “The whole thing (Pros vs. Joes) in general, is what sparked it. It had been awhile since I competed and when I competed on that show it was like, I felt mentally, that I was going to win and that I was going to do well, so coming away from that experience that really made me think I wanted to start competing again.” This reigniting of his fire found him headed to the world of mixed martial arts where he began a very successful career. This led to him trying out for The Ultimate Fighter where he had an interesting conversation with Dana White. “I went out to Vegas and I interviewed for TUF and the quote (From Dana White) was “What am I gonna do with you in a house full of guys with Mohawks and tattoos?” In retrospect I’m completely happy I didn’t get on the show.” Nice guys don’t always finish last.

Fast forward back to Pittsburgh. He was scheduled to fight T.J. Grant and all is right in the world. But inexplicably, Grant fell ill the week of the fight and would be unable to fight. Brenneman handled it with grace and class outwardly but you can imagine how crushed he had to be to be so close, yet so far, from making his dream a reality. He finished his camp strong, and on the advice of his brother, didn’t go on a food binge and made it to the weigh ins to step on the scale at 170lbs to collect his show money.

A funny thing happened on the way to the scale. Enter Marquardt-Gate and Testosterone Therapy. Nate the Great, who was scheduled in the co main event against up and comer Rick Story, was not cleared to fight. So during the weigh ins guess who got another opportunity? You guessed it again, Charlie. He went from not being on the card at all, to filling in for an injured Matt Riddle, to his opponent pulling out of their preliminary fight to being in the co main event in a very short period of time. Charlie didn’t have to go to nearby Kennywood to get on a rollercoaster ride in Pittsburgh; he got one from the UFC.

Not only did he get an amazing opportunity, he took full advantage of it in front of hundreds of family and friends, the thousands of other people in attendance and the millions watching on TV. Brenneman won a clear cut unanimous decision. I know we are on the opposite side of the state but forgive me if I cue the Rocky theme music now. Brenneman said it best himself when I asked him about the overall experience “Just the most unbelievable experience of my life. All the stars were aligned for me that night”

When asked about who he has his sights set on now he states “I get to train with these guys a lot so it’s really hard to pinpoint.  Eventually, and I’m in no hurry to get it done, but I would say all the champs. I have been fortunate enough to train with Frankie (Edgar) a lot and GSP a little bit.”  When asked how the sessions with GSP went he said “We only trained no gi. I was pretty happy with how it turned out.” Brenneman’s training routine involves a good amount of time on the road. He travels 150 miles on the road for 4 hours of gym time. He speaks to the challenges of gym hopping to round out his training ““It’s tough, I look at some of the guys in Vegas or in Florida where they have one home but it’s not that way here. Between my training at different gyms and my fiancé in my hometown, I’m always on the road. It’s to be the best; I got a taste of that so if I don’t do it I know I’m cheating myself.” He continues “I am really a homebody. Lately I have been expressing in interviews how difficult it is to not be home. To be living in New Jersey and living in New York and doing this on a daily basis. I just had someone say this to me yesterday “You don’t have a job”  “You don’t work” and I want to tell people I do have a job and I do work, and you would probably choose your job over mine you need to keep those comments to yourself.” He has been happy with his progression as a mixed martial artist “From the beginning, I would say watch my first fight and my last fight to see my progression. Things are finally starting to come together.” He notes an interesting moment in his training “Frankie (Edgar) said it was his funniest training story but it wasn’t funny at all. There were a few of us training and I got kicked in the eye and shattered my orbital socket. I couldn’t see, everyone was flipping out I eventually had to get surgery, so that is the moment that sticks out.”

Still a teacher at heart, Charlie has another dream he plans on fulfilling. He would like to open his own gym and pay it forward to the next generation of mixed martial artists. “That seems to be the end place that we aspire to be. It is work but it’s not work as most people see it. Wrestling has formed me into what I am and fighting has taken that from there so I would like to use that to give back.