LAYTON -- A former high school wrestling star struck by a chronic disease in adulthood is planning a comeback, this time in mixed martial arts.
Mike Brown started wrestling when he was in the sixth grade. That was the year he also won his first tournament.
After that, he wrestled for Central Davis Junior High School, losing only twice during those three middle school years. At Layton High School, he became a region champion his sophomore year and took third place in state as a senior.
After college, Brown began working in the juvenile justice system and then Wahlquist Junior High School as an academic counselor. He was also given the job as the school's wrestling coach, in addition to coaching wrestling at Rocky Mountain Junior High School.
Then he got sick. Very sick.
Brown was experiencing severe digestive problems and internal bleeding. He was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract where parts of the digestive system swell and develop ulcers.
At times, he would have to check into the hospital, where he was admitted on the cancer unit for a day to receive medication through an IV. At his worst, he was given a steroid, which caused him to gain more than 50 pounds in less than two months.
"During this time, I would have friends walk up to me and have to do a double take because they didn't recognize me," he said. "Last year at this time, I weighed 203 pounds and started cutting calories and cutting down portion sizes of my main meals."
In August, Brown moved back to Layton, where a friend told him about One Hit MMA. He checked it out and told the owner about his illness and the weight gain caused by the medication.
He was welcomed with open arms, even though at age 40, he was one of the oldest guys in the room, he said.
"The training is pretty intense but can also be slow paced and technique-driven at times. Some guys that train there are professional fighters, and some guys are amateurs, but when you walk through the door at the gym, all are equals and everyone works as a team or family unit to help one another," he said.
"Some of the most gentle and patient guys there are some of the toughest guys there."
Today, Brown has slimmed down to 155 pounds and is looking forward to his first kickboxing fight in June at the Muay Thai Institute in Salt Lake City.
"It will be a three-round kickboxing match, so I won't be able to use my wrestling, which will be a challenge. I hope to go on and do an MMA match by the end of 2013," he said.
Some movie-goers may see similarities of Brown's story to one recently on the silver screen.
"It's kind of funny that some of my students here call me, 'Here Comes the Boom,' which is an MMA movie that just came out where a teacher ends up getting into MMA to help his co-worker and the music department raise money," Brown said.
"I even talked the orchestra teacher here into watching the movie."
The film, released last year, is a comedy that stars Kevin James and Salma Hayek. It is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Brown will battle Crohn's disease for the rest of his life, but now, instead of taking 24 pills a day, he's down to 10, plus two shots into his stomach every 28 days to keep the disease in check.
He said he actually feels really good.
"No matter what ethnicity, economical background, religion or part of the country you come from, or how old or young you are, we all go through tough times and have challenges in life," Brown said.
"At times, it feels like the world is crashing in on you, but you can change and make a difference in your life."