Charlie Brenneman vividly remembers the scene from his wrestling match against Johny Hendricks in the 2004 NCAA Division I championship tournament, and it isn’t exactly one he’d put in his personal scrapbook.
“I remember vividly seeing a sea of Okie State orange and being in pain because he was putting it to me from the top position,” said the Lock Haven graduate, who lost 11-1 to Oklahoma State’s Hendricks that night in St. Louis. “It was the round of 12 to become an All-American and he handled me pretty well. I take nothing away from him in that aspect, but it’s not too good of a memory, so I’m really anxious to erase that.”
Six years later, he has his chance – not in wrestling, but in mixed martial arts, where Brenneman will battle Hendricks in a welterweight bout on this Saturday’s UFC 117 card in Oakland. And as the 170-prospect is quick to point out, he’s not the same athlete he was in 2004.
“He has a win over me in a different sport, so maybe he’s trying to use that as an advantage, but the gist of it is, I look at that as when I was a kid,” said Brenneman. “I was 23 years old then and I really hadn’t mastered the mental aspects of competition. I’m a 29-year old man and a lot has happened in six years, so it’s a neat little storyline, but I don’t put too much stock in it.”
He shouldn’t, because both have put away the singlet, traded it for a pair of gloves, and are currently making their way up the ranks in MMA. And now that punches and kicks have been added to their existing repertoires, Saturday’s bout will bear little resemblance to their previous meeting, though Brenneman admits that he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to use his wrestling on Hendricks.
“I’m not gonna lie – if I can use my wrestling to take him down and pound him out, one hundred percent I’m gonna do that,” he said. “But there’s a part of me that’s sitting back here thinking, hmm, I kinda hope that we have to stand there and bang just to see where it goes. He’s a tough guy, I’m a tough guy – what better way than to just stand there and bang it out and go into unchartered territory.”
And we all know the old adage that states when two wrestlers meet in the Octagon, a standup brawl usually ensues. That shouldn’t be an issue for either fighter, and it may be just what the doctor ordered for Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania’s Brenneman, 12-1, who already showed off his ground game in his Octagon debut against Jason High in March, a unanimous decision victory that met his approval.
“Jason’s a really dangerous fighter, and he’s explosive in every aspect of the game,” he said. “I would have liked to have been a little bit more dynamic in the top position, but he had such good hips that you can’t give him any space or man, he’s right out. In retrospect, I was pretty happy with it. It was my first fight on a really big show and I was fighting a quality opponent, so I think I got a really good win out of that.”
He also fought off the much-discussed first time UFC jitters, which didn’t hit him on fight night, but on the morning of the bout in Charlotte.
“When I was in the Octagon I felt nothing but one hundred percent confidence, but when it hit me was the morning of,” he said. “When I woke up that morning I was in a very weird state. The magnitude of the situation really got to me, and I spent a lot of time just walking around with my girlfriend, trying to relax. But once I got (trainer) Mike (Constantino), (UFC lightweight and teammate) Jim Miller, and all the other guys around me, I really felt that this is right, this is where I’m supposed to be.”
And he proved he belonged when the bell rang against High. And while it was the UFC debut for both men, the pressure was still higher than ever, as the competition for spots in the organization has intensified. When the fight was over, that fact was evident, as High was released from his contract and Brenneman stayed alive to fight another day in the UFC.
“That’s the reality of the situation and that’s how competitive it is,” said Brenneman. “The way I explain it to people is, everything in my life is in check right now – everything’s on hold. My life can literally change course at any moment – you just never know what can happen. So while it’s exciting and without a doubt it’s the most fun I’ve had in my life being in the UFC, nothing’s guaranteed, and we’re all fighting tooth and nail to stay in there.”
For Brenneman, that tooth and nail fight means accepting a bout against an unbeaten standout in Hendricks, knowing that a win not only avenges his wrestling loss, but also puts him even higher up the ladder and secures his spot in the division even more. That’s worth 15 minutes of Hell with Hendricks.
“It’s a high risk, high reward situation,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity, and that’s how you make big things happen, by being at the right place at the right time. I’m 29 years old, I’m trying to build a career and trying to advance my life, and the quickest way to do that is to fight the best guys and progress up the card as fast as possible. I’ve been lucky to be with a good team, I train every day, and I don’t take time off, so if I’m ever gonna be ready, I think in the next six months to the next year, without a doubt I’ll be ready.”
High Risk, High Reward for Brenneman
Following his March win over Jason High, Charlie "The Spaniard" Brenneman returns this weekend with the opportunity to avenge a college loss to Johny Hendricks and continue his move up the welterweight ranks...