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The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Ohio in front of a sold out crowd

The UFC octagon between fights at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH.
Chris Welter
According to their website, Saturday was the first time Columbus, OH hosted the UFC in over a decade.

Matt Brown, originally from Bowersville in Greene County, was the only local fighter on the card. He lost in a close fight but received a $50,000 fight of the night bonus.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, returned to Ohio for the first time in 5 years on Saturday. The mixed martial arts promotion brought in athletes from eleven countries to fight in a sold out Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Fighter entrance songs included everything from Mongolian Throat Singing (Batgerel Danaa) to French hip-hop (Manon Fiorot).

Another competitor was Kai Kara-France from New Zealand. Kara-France gained the admiration of the Ohio crowd–in part because he was an underdog against his opponent, Russian fighter Askar Askarov, and because he started his post-fight interview with a familiar cheer.

Kara France admitted in his post-fight press conference that he knew nothing about Ohio before he took the thirty hour flight there this week. He said the OH-IO chant was pre-planned.

“One of my cornermen, Frank, he's from America, and he was like, If you say this, they'll love you for it.”

Even though Kara-France now has thousands of new fans in Ohio, he said he’d like his next fight to be in his native New Zealand.

Matt Brown, on the other hand, didn’t have to travel quite as far to the fight on Saturday. Brown grew up in the tiny village of Bowersville in Greene County and now runs a gym in the suburbs of Columbus. He’s nicknamed “The Immortal” because he survived a heroin overdose in his early twenties. In a pre-fight interview with USA Today, Brown said mixed martial arts saved his life.

“By the time I decided to turn pro,” he said. “I was living completely clean and committed one thousand percent to the martial arts.”

Brown lost in a close fight to Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena of Tennessee.

Greene County native Matt Brown leaves the cage after losing a close fight at UFC Fight Night
Chris Welter
Greene County native Matt Brown leaves the cage after losing a close fight at UFC Fight Night

Despite the loss, he received a $50,000 fight of the night bonus. After the fight, Brown was transported to a local hospital for CTEobservation.

Brown is a participant in a Cleveland Clinic Professional Athlete Brain Health Study where he gets frequent brain scans and takes cognitive tests. He is forty one years old but said in a pre-fight press conference that he has no plans of retiring– in part because his results in the Cleveland Clinic’s cognitive tests have been surprising.

“My scores have improved over time, actually, which is crazy, you know”? Brown said “So as long as my brain's still intact, I can just keep going.”

The gate for the event was more than $1.9 million dollars, according to the UFC.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.