Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and when Charlie Brenneman stepped in to replace Nate Marquardt with just a day’s notice against Rick Story for UFC on Versus 5’s co-main event – and he won – well, it doesn’t get more Cinderella-esque than that. (Fact: at the stroke of midnight on June 26, right after Brenneman won, his coach, Mike Constantino, turned back into a field mouse and their car turned into a pumpkin.) Of course, questions linger, like “Was the win a fluke?” and “Is Brenneman really that good or does Story just suck at wrestling?” Folks, it was no fluke. And while yes, Story probably does suck at wrestling (I kid, he wrestled in college), the man affectionately known as “The Spaniard” has been kicking butt from the beginning. I know because I was there for his first few pro fights.
When Brenneman made his pro debut, he had relentless collegiate-level wrestling, phenomenal conditioning, a string of victories as an amateur, bragging rights for having won the first season of the SpikeTV show “Pros vs. Joes”, and big hair. All of those traits (except maybe the big hair) contributed to his dominant performances, which came one after the other in promotions like Extreme Challenge, Ring of Combat and ShoXC. No one – including jiu-jitsu black belt Marcello Olivera, grappler Jordan Damon, judoka Joe Aviles and wrestler Mark Berraciol – could stop his takedowns and escape his nonstop pressure. And that was the gist of it in those bouts; Brenneman was all about getting the fight to the canvas and playing smashmouth with his fists and forearms. Everyone either wilted or was smothered until the final bell tolled. It was like watching a larger version of Frankie Edgar.
It goes without saying that Brenneman isn’t exactly an Edgar clone, as the UFC lightweight champ has better boxing and submission skills, is an aggressive finisher, and has defeated the best. But the Spaniard has only tasted defeat twice – once via close decision to John Howard, and once via TKO to Johny Hendricks in the Octagon. And he’s still growing and maturing.
How does Brenneman stack up against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, his opponent on Saturday night? If how well he handled Story is any indication, Brenneman will have little problem putting Johnson on his back and keeping him there. The only question mark, really, is if Johnson will succumb to the repeated blows to his dome or if he’ll endure the punishment for the entire fifteen minutes. Either way, the smart money is on the Spaniard. He’s been diligently working his way up the food chain since the beginning, and he’s not stopping for anything.