Two very talented heavyweights will meet this Saturday night (April 13, 2013) as top prospect Travis Browne takes on former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga on The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Browne was well on his way to the top of the heavyweight division before hitting a road block in his last fight against current title challenger Antonio Silva in a bout where he injured his leg in the first round. "Hapa" is hoping to build back some momentum against another top Brazilian.
Gonzaga went from title challenger to released from the UFC but since returning to the promotion in 2012, he's gone back to his roots and experienced tremendous success with a pair of submission victories, most recently tapping out Ben Rothwell in this past January.
Record: 12-1-1 overall, 4-1-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Antonio Silva (UFC on FX 5)
How he got here: Browne got his start in early 2009, fighting six times in five months and demolishing everyone in his path. He competed in multiple organizations from King of the Cage, Gladiator Challenge and even Bellator.
"Hapa" punched his ticket to the UFC with a trio of knockouts in a combined 52 seconds from Nov. 2009 to Feb. 2010. He made his debut against James McSweeney and cracked the Grudge-trained fighter's skull inside the first round to make his mark in the promotion.
The Jackson's MMA fighter was thrown to the wolves in a "sink or swim" match against Cheick Kongo at UFC 120, but the bout left much to be desired as Kongo was deducted a point for accidentally super-gluing his hands to Browne's shorts, which resulted in the bout being ruled a draw.
Browne moved on to the towering Stefan Struve and knocked "The Skyscraper" down with a huge right hand when the giant went for an ill-advised flying knee to score a first round knockout. His follow-up fight against Rob Broughton wasn't pretty, but he got the job done via decision and Browne got right back on track by destroying Chad Griggs at UFC 145, winning via submission for the first time in his career.
"Hapa" scored his first headlining gig in his last bout, a battle against former EliteXC champ Antonio Silva, but a first round leg injury hampered his movement and "Bigfoot" was able to hand Browne his first career defeat.
Now, after several months off, Browne is returning against a former title challenger and looking for redemption.
How he gets it done: Travis Browne packs one hell of a punch. He's got as powerful a right hand as just about anyone in the UFC heavyweight division and he can end a fighter's night very quickly if he can land it flush.
The key will be for Browne to show up in terrific shape, like he did against Struve and Griggs, be light on his feet, and take advantage of Gonzaga's defensive liabilities. Browne should be able to get in, land strikes, and get out before Gonzaga can react due to his lack of speed.
Speed kills in this match-up and if Browne can score with his fists or his flying knees, he could very well take advantage of Gonzaga's chin. We've already seen Gonzaga lose by knockout or TKO to the likes of Randy Couture, Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos so it's definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
The key for Browne is to avoid being taken down as Gonzaga possesses a very solid grappling arsenal and he's been much more active in using it as of late.
Record: 14-6 overall, 9-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Gonzaga had a significant background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu before making the transition to mixed martial arts, winning several competitions and doing well at the prestigious ADCC tournament. He had a rock solid start to his professional MMA career, with his lone defeat coming at the hands of current top heavyweight Fabricio Werdum before he was invited to the UFC.
Once there, he began wrecking his opposition, knocking out or submitting everyone in his way before earning the opportunity of a lifetime against the legendary Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. "Napao" shocked the world by knocking the Croatian superstar senseless with a right head kick, which earned him a UFC Heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture.
In his title opportunity, Gonzaga came up short against Couture, fading in the third round after breaking his nose. Since that defeat, he's never been able to be a consistent winner in MMA, losing to all the top rising heavyweights while winning just enough against the lower tiered heavyweights to remain employed.
That streak ended in late 2010 when Gonzaga lost to Brendan Schaub and was released from the UFC and the Brazilian announced his retirement. He returned to MMA a year later, winning via submission and earning another shot at the big leagues and he made the best of his opportunity by submitting Ednaldo Oliveira in his return to the promotion.
After a year off due to a mixture of injuries and bad luck, Gonzaga battled Ben Rothwell this past January and submitted the "North Star" with a nasty guillotine choke to remain unbeaten in his second UFC stint.
How he gets it done: Gonzaga has some good punching power and vicious kicks, but his striking has really only hurt him ever since the knockout of Filipovic. His recent success has come because he returned to his roots by taking fights to the ground and submitting opponents.
Browne showed a nice submission against Chad Griggs, but he's a neophyte on the canvas compared to Gonzaga. "Napao" needs to get inside and put him on the canvas. It won't be easy because Browne is a stellar athlete and trains alongside some very talented wrestlers, but that's the only way he's likely going to win.
They key for Gonzaga is to wear Browne down with takedown attempts and attacks on the canvas. If at first you don't succeed try, try again. He should stand and trade only long enough to allow Browne to let his guard down, then it'll be time to pounce.
Even if Gonzaga can't submit "Hapa" on the ground, he should at least be able to win the fight positionally if he can take it there.