Tune in to the UFC on Versus on Sunday night and you’ll see, in the co-main event, new East Hanover resident Charlie Brenneman, when just a day before he was not even on the card.
“The Spaniard” has ridden a roller-coaster to get this far, to the center of the Ocatgon in the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, some 90 miles west of his native Holidaysburg, Pa.
A few months back when he joined me on Rear Naked Choke Radio on MMADieHards.com ahead of the UCC event in Morristown, Brenneman and I talked about how he was looking ahead to the Pittsburgh card and was crushed that he was not slated for it when the matchups were announced.
Like all of Mike Constantino’s fighters at AMA Fight Club in Whippany (and now Pompton Lakes), Brenneman assured the listeners that he was ready to jump in on short notice, duly noting which welterweights were on the card in case someone had to pull out with an injury. The 170-pound bouts at the time featured Nate Marquardt agasint Anthony Johnson for the main event, while T.J. Grant was scheduled to meet Matthew Riddle on the undercard.
In the high-attrition world of combat sports, things can turn immediately. Fighters frequently have to yield their spots on upcoming cards due to training injuries, and that’s what happened with both Riddle and Johnson. It opened spots for Brenneman against Grant, and Rick Story versus Marquardt, and even gave them plenty of time to prepare.
Part of Brenneman’s preparation was to take care of all the friends and family requests, and to mentally deal with the pressure of fighting at home. Proximity was going to make this Brenneman’s biggest fight, not Grant’s less-than-household name.
Shortly after Brenneman and Constantino arrived in Pittsburgh, they were hit with a bombshell. The fight was scrapped, as Grant came down with mononucleosus. Constantino, who doubles are Brenneman’s manager and trainer, patiently kept the fighter on the game plan. He would maintain his diet, go through with the weight cut and hope for a miracle.
About an hour before Saturday’s weigh-ins, that miracle came, at the expense of Marquardt.
The pair got an inkling Friday that something might be up, and that perhaps made it easier for Brenneman to go through the arduous weight-cutting process with no apparent carrot at the end of the stick.
UFC president Dana White tweeted a video that explained Marquardt not only was out of the main event against Story, but also had been released from the organization. It was a stunning turn that created a whirlpool of speculation about why a popular long-time UFC veteran like Marquardt would be sacked with little explanation, save for White citing the fighter having not passed his medicals.
Brenneman then proved his professionalism and safely hit the scales at 170.6 pounds (for non-title fights most commissions have a one-pound allowance). He even threw on a Pittsburgh Steelers hardhat to make sure that anyone who might have been on the fence would know who to root for in the co-main event. The heavyweight match between Cheick Kongo and Pat Barry was slotted to the top of the ledger.
For his troubles, Brenneman went from a Facebook-streamed preliminary match, to off the card, to a high-profile and potentially career-altering fight with Story that will be broadcast on Versus, which is now owned by NBC.
Sometime before midnight Sunday, he’ll try on the MMA version of Cinderella’s glass slipper. Even if it doesn’t fit, at least Charlie Brenneman afforded himself a chance most will never get.