We can all agree that the idea of making a film based on ‘a fighter’s story’ is far from original.
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A stronger way to put it would be that Hollywood signs them off fast enough to leave you with whiplash. Typically, two hours of struggle (for the protagonist and audience alike), workout footage, and emotional ups and downs lead to the climax. The plucky underdog, after enduring the most unrealistic of physical punishment, rises Lazarus-like from the canvas and defeats the undefeatable (usually politically alien) foe. Right at the dinner bell.
It’s like a Demian Maia fight. The plot is pretty much set in stone, and the outcome is a safe bet; but you’re usually satisfied at the end regardless.
But there are fighters who should have films made about their life. Some have endured real, almost unrelatable hardship, some hail from cultures unique enough to warrant numerous sequels. And others are just plain crazy. Brok Weaver has a little bit of it all, and his story is only just beginning.
Life on the Reservation
“Sup,” Weaver greets John Hyon Ko in a thick Southern drawl, fist raised in a salute. The Skype connection is poor and children are shouting loudly in the background.
“I’m actually in a Waffle House,” he jokes. “I got the time mixed up wrong, but it’s all good.”
Weaver sports a fading black eye, a memento from a recent hard sparring session. He is deep into camp in preparation for his upcoming shot at stardom on Dana White’s Contender Series. But unlike some of the show’s contestants, Weaver is far from green. His upbringing wouldn’t allow it.
“Macintosh, Alabama, is a very small city man,” he says. “We got no street lights. We had one dollar store, two gas stations, a bank, and one main highway. Everything else is just dirt roads. Got a population of maybe 800 in the town you know mostly full of my tribe members.”
If you’ve never seen Weaver fight, it’s truly something to behold. He is a member of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, who make up much of McIntosh’s small population. It’s a heritage he carries proudly, and frequently sports traditional MOWA facepaint and headwear at his weigh-ins and media obligations. On fight night itself, even on small promotions, the tribe turns out in force to support and make their presence known. It’s a family affair and one that historically extends beyond the ring into the fabric of his society.
His uncle, formerly an undefeated professional boxer, fought Roy Jones Jr six times as an amateur, Weaver shared.
“I started boxing with him when I was 12-years-old. Then I started doing MMA when I was 15 with my cousin. He was a pro MMA fighter, and the only one fighting in the reservation at the time.”
Guitars and Cadillacs
Pretty soon Weaver was itching to put his training to use and, aged just 16, used a cousin’s ID to secure a fight at a local bar, Guitars and Cadillacs. His 32-year-old opponent bested him that night, albeit by split decision.
“That feeling of being locked in a cage with a grown man, I ain’t gonna lie I was scared to death. But after he punched me that first time and woke me up, I was eager to get back.”
Weaver’s doggedness won him fans on the night and convinced the bar’s proprietors to look the other way for to him to compete again.
“Everybody remembers that fight,” he jokes. “They said, ‘Man you’re a kid but we’re gonna let you keep fighting until someone finds out.’”
Which they did, and Weaver had to wait until he turned 18 to continue his amateur career. In the three years following his 18th birthday, Weaver fought like a man possessed, racking up over 20 amateur bouts including several licensed and unlicensed boxing contests, eventually getting his professional card at the age of 21.
“I would fight weekend to weekend with different organizations around the south. I was hooked, so it’s all I’ve ever known.”
At this point in our film, we enter the second act and the ‘Legend of Brok Weaver’ is in full swing, if only in a local sense. Fame as his people’s young warrior went to his head. He has no qualms admitting that and acknowledges that things could have quite easily taken a different path to where he is today.
“I was partying a lot and had become a local hero,” he says. “Every same story that I think any fighters or pro athlete goes through. Before you get money, you become ‘local famous’ – you’re still broke, but you think you’re rich. I’d get people dragging me to parties and clubs, it drained me – I’d party four days a week, train three or four days a week and then going and fighting. You just can’t do that and then fight these pro athletes.”
This realization ushers in the character’s transformation, or ‘epiphany’ – a turning point, advancing the plot forward. In Weaver’s case, his re-dedication to fighting was religious; both figuratively and literally.
“I’ve been married to my wife for one year and it’s stabilized me and helped me settle down and find God. Getting back into my roots and my religion, just trying to be a better man and staying away from all the unrighteous things in life”.
And it has served him well, running undefeated in his last six outings. One thing you notice about Weaver is his honesty, both in conversation and in fighting style. He knows what he’s good at (boxing is his strength) and where he can be found wanting. But more than that, he carries himself with confidence, seemingly buoyed by his re-acquaintance with God, that sits just under the arrogance watermark. Yoel Romero, Rory Macdonald, Diego Sanchez – all fighters cut from the same cloth; meek but wild.
Walk the Line
And so we’ve arrived – our hero’s time to shine. Well, not exactly. The last year hasn’t exactly gone smoothly for Weaver; through no fault of his own.
The initial chance for a UFC contract fell through when Dana White was unable to attend his fight at Island Fights 52 in February.
“He had to cancel the day of the weigh-ins saying he couldn’t make it because he’d hurt his foot. It was a big letdown but my manager said we should go into this fight and act like he’s still watching and get some kind of contract, late notice fight or for sure the Contender series.”
Weaver got the win, albeit in a somewhat farcical manner. In the first round with a submission locked in, Weaver felt James Freeman tap, at which point Freeman’s corner launched a bottle into the ring. The resulting commotion distracted the referee and Weaver was awarded the win by disqualification, much to his annoyance.
— ShayMyName (@ImShannonTho) February 8, 2019
“They said winner by disqualification – I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ They said that his corner jumped in the ring and grabbed me and threw a bottle at me. I thought it was the referee grabbing me so I just got up and started celebrating,” he explains.
“So when they said I won by disqualification, I was like ‘Nah he tapped’. ‘Yeah’ they said, ‘but they threw the bottle first so he was disqualified’, it’s bull****. It robbed me of my win.”
But a win’s a win, and Weaver had caught the attention of the UFC scouts. ‘Stay ready’ he was told. So he did, maintaining a fight camp regime for the last four months until his spot on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series was confirmed for June 18.
Again, however, someone or something had other plans. His scheduled opponent, Leon Shahbazyan (7-1) was not medically cleared to fight.
But now, finally, we are at the story’s climax. Weaver appears on the show’s July 13 card against the well-rounded Devin Smyth (9-1), where he will have the chance to make it all worthwhile.
“All my people know is fighting really. It’s what we’re known for around here,” he says.
For risk of sounding cliché, it could be fate. A small-town boy, raised in a fiercely proud but down-trodden society finally getting his shot under the Vegas lights. Weaver is far from McIntosh; the boy fighting men twice his age in bars. But it’s all part of the story. A win on July 13 would be the film’s final scene and the start of the sequel.
But no need to tell him that. Every time he makes the walk, Brok Weaver is already the star of the show.
“Me and my boys, we dress up, we put the paint on. It’s real you know? I feel like my walk-outs are like a movie. I’m not bragging, but I think the UFC’s going to love me. I’ll be Dana White’s Golden Boy one day.”
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.