Charlie Brenneman has plenty to celebrate. On February 9, ten days removed from pounding out George Shepphard in the second round at Valley Fight League 23: "Mason Dixon Showdown 2," Brenneman signed a four fight contract making him the UFC's newest welterweight. It was his 29th birthday. Brenneman makes his debut against Jason High at Ultimate Fight Night 21 on March 31.
"It's amazing," he said. "It's going to be surreal walking out to the Octagon."
Brenneman is no stranger to big stages or bright lights. "The Spaniard" wrestled for Lock Haven University, a Division I school in his home state of PA. His thirst for competition unquenched after college, Brenneman and his brother Ben competed on and won the first season of Spike TV's "Pros vs. Joes" reality show. That urge to test himself drove him to MMA.
"You've been competing all your life for a purpose," said Brenneman, "and then it's gone and you're asking yourself, ‘Who am I?'"
Self-trained at first, the Hollidaysburg, PA native sought out AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ following his first defeat, a 2008 unanimous decision loss to current UFC welterweight John Howard. The defeat galvanized him and made him focus on finding a team. The biggest benefits for Brenneman are the structure and consistency that comes from having a regular camp, and the quality of training partners.
"We've got all these studs, Frankie Edgar and the Miller brothers, that are where I want to be," said Brenneman. "I'm just going to do what they do, train like they train."
He also says the loss inspired him to "diversify" his game and to try to finish fights.
"Never leave it in the judges' hands," said Brenneman. "You hear that cliché all the time, but I thought I won that fight. Then I found out I lost, and there's nothing I can do."
Brenneman has improved his record to 11-1 while at AMA and will ride a five-fight win streak into the Octagon on March 31. A proven finisher, seven of his wins have come by stoppage. His opponent, Jason "The Kansas City Bandit" High, was the recipient of a gruesome knockout courtesy of Marius Zaromskis in his last fight. The Affliction- and Dream veteran went 2-2 in 2009. Brenneman thinks they match up well.
"He's good at what I'm good at," said Brenneman of his opponent. "I don't know Jason's wrestling pedigree, but if I have that advantage [of wrestling] then I'm certainly going to use it. If I get in there and realize I don't, it's time to go to Plan B or Plan C."
Brenneman admits he hasn't had to rely on his muay Thai much in past bouts, but is confident and comfortable on his feet. And unlike many other wrestlers, he doesn't feel helpless fighting off his back, though he's only been there three times in his fighting career, and never for long.
Regardless of where the fight goes, Brenneman is where he wants to be. He and his camp "were very close" to signing with either the UFC or Bellator and agonized over the choice, but decided the UFC was a better fit.
"I don't want to float in and out of the UFC," he said. "I want to be there, stay there and retire there."