Crucial heavyweight position will be on the line when top-ranked contenders Josh Barnett and Travis Browne square off on the pay-per-view main (PPV) main card of this Saturday night's (Dec. 28, 2013) UFC 168 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Barnett recently made a successful return to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) after a lengthy nine-year absence. He destroyed an overmatched Frank Mir in the first round at UFC 164, earning him a date with hyped prospect Browne.
No. 6-ranked "Warmaster" is a mixed martial arts (MMA) legend at this point in his career, having fought many wars against the best heavyweight talent the sport has ever seen. But, he's not done adding to his legacy and will look to stake his claim at another UFC title shot by defeating the talented "Hapa."
Browne was last seen knocking out former Strikeforce and K-1 Grand Prix champ Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night 26 in August. He was in big trouble from "Reem's" devastating knees early on, but weathered the storm to floor Overeem with a perfectly placed front kick. The win got him back on track after a knockout loss to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and earned him the number five spot in a relatively shallow division.
Many believe that Browne is the future of the heavyweight landscape. He can certainly prove that by defeating Barnett at UFC 168. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne:
Record: 33-6 overall, 5-1 UFC
Key Wins: Frank Mir (UFC 164), Randy Couture (UFC 36), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Final Conflict Absolute), Mark Hunt (Pride Critical Countdown Absolute)
Key Losses: Mirko Filipovic (Pride 28, Pride 30, Pride Final Conflict Absolute), Daniel Cormier (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Shockwave 2006)
Keys to Victory: Barnett is one of the most experienced veterans fighting in MMA today. His resume speaks for itself as he's faced nearly every legendary heavyweight in the history of the sport, defeating some while losing to others.
But he's dealing with a new breed of heavyweight in Browne.
Mir didn't provide near the challenge that "Hapa" will on Saturday, so Barnett needs to bring his best game to the Octagon. With his blend of Catch Wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he's undoubtedly one of the best heavyweight grapplers the sport has ever seen. He's also extremely tough and has never been submitted.
But Brown's main strength is the ferocious knockout power that he's used to earn 11 of his 15 total wins. Barnett is no slouch on the feet with 10 knockouts of his own but it goes without saying that "Warmaster" needs to get this fight to the ground as soon as possible.
The 6'7" Browne is a big target and tall fighters are usually easier to take down, so that should play into Barnett's strengths. If he can drag "Hapa" to the mat early on, he'll open up a world of potentially fight-ending submission opportunities.
Browne is a smart fighter with a great camp in place at Jackson's MMA. Despite his win over Gabriel Gonzaga earlier this year, Browne has never fought a grappler the caliber of Barnett.
Look for "Warmaster" to stick to what got him here and look for an early arm triangle choke while both fighters are still dry. If he can't get this one to the ground, it could be a short night for him.
This will be a telling match for Barnett. He can prove he still has a ton of gas left in the tank by defeating an up-and-coming fighter with a ton of potential. Straying away from striking exchanges is going to be the best way to accomplish that.
Record: 15-1-1 overall, 5-1-1 UFC
Key wins: Alistair Overeem (UFC Fight Night 26), Gabriel Gonzaga (The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale), Stefan Struve (UFC 130)
Key Losses: Antonio Silva (UFC on FX 5)
Keys to Victory: Browne has been an absolute bulldozer in his eight-fight UFC career. He's taken out some talented heavyweights with a variety of highlight reel knockouts, namely his Superman punch on Stefan Struve and his recent front kick knockout of Overeem.
Browne gets the job done by bringing superior athleticism to the table. The former college basketball player has found a way to translate those skills into success inside the cage. His height creates a big advantage in the striking department, allowing him to keep his opponents at bay with a various assault of kicks and punches.
His striking power is also some of the best in the sport as he's already notched three "Knockout of the Night" bonuses so far. He'll be looking for another one when he faces the resilient "Warmaster" in Las Vegas.
Browne was nearly knocked out by Overeem's devastating knees at UFC Fight Night 26, so he'll have to bring some better kickboxing defense to UFC 168 if he wants to win. Barnett is mostly known for his mat skills but proved his Muay Thai is beyond proficient by unleashing an impressive flurry on Mir.
Barnett's main weapon will always be his crushing submission holds. Browne isn't terrible in the wrestling game but he can't hold a candle to the grappling skills of Barnett. He'll obviously stand a much better chance if he can keep the fight standing. Keeping a high torrent of accurate strikes in Barnett's face will be paramount to winning this bout.
Cormier frustrated Barnett by doing just that, but he also had the added element of takedowns in his back pocket. Without it, Browne's task will be significantly more difficult. However, he's probably the division's fastest-rising star.
A lot of that is due to his preparation and mental toughness. If he can avoid getting smothered on the ground and find some room to implement his gameplan, Browne's biggest victory will be at hand.
Bottom Line From Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it may decide a heavyweight title challenger for the near future. It won't be too soon, however, as divisional champ Cain Velasquez is on the sidelines until late next year with shoulder surgery.
Fabricio Werdum was supposed to be the next man to take on Velasquez, but that fight is up in the air now that the champ is on the sidelines. In the meantime, former champion Junior dos Santos has said that he wants to fight the winner of Barnett vs. Browne.
That could be a blockbuster match and an excellent way to fill the time until Velasquez returns. There isn't that many legitimate title contenders at heavyweight right now so we might as well find out who is the most deserving.
That shortage of top combatants is what gives these two fighters a chance to rise to the top quickly, and it's also what could cause them to get stuck in a kind of no-man's land. The loser here will be miles away from a title shot because the scene is so uncertain. They'll most likely need three top quality wins to get back in the title picture, and with Velasquez fighting rather sporadically time will be against them.
Especially for Barnett, because "Warmaster" is getting up there in years. He has managed to stay in good shape for a man that's been through so many wars.
That's a big testament to his effectiveness. He doesn't take a whole lot of damage and that has definitely prolonged his career. On the other hand, he's had some difficulty dealing with truly world-class strikers.
Browne is one of them and he's as hungry as they come.
"Hapa" is going to push the pace and look for the knockout from the opening bell. It's up to Barnett to neutralize that onslaught. If and when this fight hits the canvas, it will instantly go to Barnett's world.
This should be an exciting fight that sends the winner onto a huge fight at 265 pounds. It's an unpredictable match that is absolutely pivotal for the careers of both men, so enjoy the fight.
Josh Barnett is looking to teach promising young talent Travis Browne a thing or two at UFC 168. Will it be "Warmaster" who grinds out another win, or does "Hapa" have the power to send Barnett plummeting?