Brent Primus: From the street to the Garden

By Gareth A. Davies

Brent Primus took some route from being a teenage miscreant on a road to nowhere to becoming Bellator 155lb champion. The tales of being kicked out of his home by his stepdad aged 13, sleeping rough in bus stations, then renting his own house at 14, of gunmen turning up at his door with death threats when he was 16, of dealing marijuana, seem far removed from the 32-year-old who became a father for the first time in August.

Talk about a life change, about growing up. It is the stuff of Hollywood movie scripts.

The storied tale of Primus’ youth in Eugene, Oregon, is testament to the changes, to the right kind of dopamine in life; namely, jiu-jitsu. Primus, fighting over girls, and anything else he was involved in, ran a two-tier life: sport and recreation. The recreation was selling drugs, making hundreds of dollars a day, being a rebel, breaking out. In all the wrong ways.

But his real talent was sports. The signs had been there in high school. He’d been a decent striker (with his feet) in soccer, hence the inordinately powerful legs of a fighter who somehow manages to squeeze down to 155lb before a fight, and who ripped the belt from Michael Chandler by mangling his leg with fearsome kicks.

It was those death threats – and visitations to his father through a glass screen at a penitentiary in Oregon – which brought him to his senses. He needed a way out of the life he had constructed for himself. A bad one.

He had always been an industrious soul. He explains to FO: “It was crazy, man. My whole time in high school was a crazy. I got kicked out by my stepdad when I was 13 and lived with girlfriends and friends and my grandparents for a little while. I was working ever since I was kicked out, picking berries at the farm, sweeping and mopping, selling Persian rugs… man, I had so many crazy jobs in high school.”

Then I was selling marijuana for years when I was in high school. I think I started when I was 14 or 15. It was just a crazy, dark time. I was partying all the time. I was drinking. I was getting in a lot of fights.”

But his life changed when he took up jiu-jitsu. It changed everything about him, turning him into a fighter.

Everybody needs dopamine and gets it in their own way. Biking, running, we need something to drive us and get us up in the morning and make us feel better. Jiu-jitsu definitely saved me, man.”

The jiu-jitsu led him to MMA training. He made his debut in 2010 and got his black belt in 2011. His training intensified. Soon he was holding his own at the Sports Lab in Portland against established professionals like Rick Story, George Sotiropoulos and Matt Wiman.

I knew I could definitely make something of it in fight sports,” he recalls. “I started training with guys in the UFC at that time but it was real hard for me to get fights. I had so many people back out of contracts to fight me.

In my first two pro fights I pretty much had to talk the guys into fighting me and gave them some of my purse. I almost gave up on MMA because I couldn’t get any fights in Oregon. Luckily Bellator signed me at only 2-0 and gave me the shot.”

Fast-forward four years under the Bellator banner and Primus has a ‘W’ over the dangerous Chandler, achieved under the full glare of the lights at Madison Square Garden, New York, a hallowed fight mecca on every level. In a sense, facing Chandler was the least of his fears after what he’d been through.

It’s a dream come true – the best feeling I could probably have. It’s great, man. All that hard work finally paid off,” he adds. “It’s crazy. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it doesn’t seem real. It’s weird knowing everybody wants what I have got. Everybody’s looking to headhunt me and everything. That’s pretty crazy and cool at the same time.”

There are deep personal rewards from here, and the radical changes Primus has made in his own life will be reflected in his own imminent fatherhood. His first child with wife Kaylee is due this month.

Every fight is for them now. After that fight with Chandler all I could think about was how happy I was to have some extra money from winning the belt and how I could pay for diapers and all the things we need for our baby,” he explains. “This will help us buy a house and our life get better.”

He will be different from his own father, who left him with a trail of broken promises. His real father was never really there for him, incarcerated on drug-dealing charges. They no longer speak.

I used to talk to him when I was little. My mum used to drive us to the prison and me and my brother would talk to him through the phone. But, honestly, man, he just made so many promises to me and my brother and you can only take him backing out of those so many times. I pushed him away from my life. With me, I had my mum and my mum is awesome. I kind of forgot about my dad.”

Like so many fighters, it was through Tammy, his mother, that Primus was furbished with unconditional love. Who knows what might have become of him had that rock not been there for him.

Yeah, she was there, for sure. I was the biggest momma’s boy when I was younger. She was my life. She was so good to me and my brother when we were younger. She was such a fun young mum. She had my brother when she was sixteen and me when she was eighteen. She was really young. Spontaneously we’d just go and do really fun things. She was like a kid. I’ll never forget all that stuff.”

There will be a sabbatical before his next contest, that first defense of the title. Primus has heard all the noises from the public about the unsatisfactory end to the Chandler fight, yet, in reality, the damage inflicted by Primus on the incumbent champion was part of his fight strategy. But he’ll happily fight Chandler again, or indeed, any other challenger out there.

Once I’ve spent a few weeks helping my wife with our newborn child, I want to get back in there and start getting ready to fight Chandler again or whoever,” Primus tells Fighters Only. “I walked into that last fight with a couple of serious injuries, so I’m letting those heal up right now. I can’t grapple or wrestle or anything like that yet, but I’ll be back soon.

I just want to fight the best guys and show I’m champion for a reason and one of the best guys in the world. I definitely want to fight the best guys in Bellator and I was looking at the Benson Henderson-Patricky Pitbull fight. I would definitely like to fight those two. It would be cool to fight Henderson. I’ve looked up to that guy for a long time. He’s been in the UFC, fought some of the best. I think it would be cool to fight him. At the same time, it would be cool to fight Pitbull because we were scheduled to fight each other a year or a couple of years ago.”

Without discovering jiu-jitsu, without his mother’s unerring love, Primus, 32, might have been in jail like his father now, or could even have fallen victim to those rivals with guns at his door.


*** This feature originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Fighters Only magazine ***