No. 3-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight contender, Travis Browne, looks to take out Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert, Fabricio Werdum, this Saturday night (April 19, 2014) in UFC on FOX 11's main event from Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
Browne started his mixed martial arts (MMA) career quickly, slicing through his first nine opponents in about one year. Finishing all but one of his foes earned him a shot inside the Octagon, and he capitalized on the opportunity with a quick finish of James McSweeney via technical knockout.
"Hapa" went unbeaten in his next four bouts, but an injury during his fight with Antonio Silva led to his first-ever loss. Since then, he's rebounded with three straight stoppage victories, including a comeback win over Alistair Overeem.
Now, he's being given another main event slot and possible chance at a title. Can he take advantage of this opportunity and challenge the Heavyweight kingpin?
Let's find out:
For a large Heavyweight, Browne has always been quite agile. In the beginning of his UFC career, he relied on his agility a bit too much, bouncing needlessly and being rather reckless. Since his loss to "Bigfoot" Silva, Browne plants his feet a bit more and keeps his hands higher while maintaining his ability to move quickly.
Though his hands are more powerful, the highlight of Browne's striking game is his kicks. The 6'7" Hawaiian uses his long legs to punish the outside of his opponent's thigh early and often. He usually throws the leg kick while circling around his opponent but will also run into the strike from just out of boxing range.
In addition to his low kicks, Browne really likes to throw head kicks. He has a head kick knockout on his record from the regional scene and nearly decapitated Gonzaga with a swift roundhouse kick. More recently, Browne used the front kick, a long time favorite of his, to jaw-jack the hunched over "Demolition Man."
Though Browne hasn't spent a ton of time on his feet since he switched up his style, his boxing looks much better. In the opening 50 seconds of his match with Barnett, "Hapa" let him up with the jab. He used his range well on the jab, probing Barnett's guard from outside "The Warmaster's" range then shooting a jab into his face when an opportunity arose.
In addition, Browne was putting together punches better than he ever had previously. His left hook and right hand still landed with force, but he kept his feet under him and didn't run through the strikes. While he picked apart Barnett, Browne's feet were in position to throw strikes, avoid punches and defend takedowns. Case in point, Browne defended a clinch attempt, landed a left hook, then blasted Barnett with a knee mid-takedown attempt just seconds before the finish.
Another strong point of Browne's striking is his use of knee strikes. Inside the clinch, Browne is excellent at controlling his opponents' postures in the double-collar tie and blasting them with knees. His height lets him reach his opponents' heads easily and he alternates knees quickly.
It's also worth mentioning that Browne really likes to throw flying knees. He seriously hurt Chad Griggs with one and has attempted them throughout his UFC career.
Defensively, Browne has really tightened up since his he calmed his feet down. He's still more than willing to exchange in the pocket, which is inherently risky, but his defense is pretty solid for a Heavyweight. Although, I have yet to see Browne even attempt to check a leg kick, which could hurt him against a solid Muay Thai striker like Werdum.
He may not have a fancy wrestling pedigree, but Browne is a big, strong guy who knows how to use his strength. Plus, his unique blend of size and athleticism allows him to do damage from unexpected positions.
Browne is an utter beast inside the clinch. It's the one part of his MMA game that really relies on pure strength, as he just throws his opponents around with shocking ease. For example, when Cheick Kongo tried to apply his usual game plan of holding his opponent against the fence and kneeing his thighs/groin, Browne tossed him across the Octagon.
When Browne goes for a shot, he likes the single leg. Once he secures a grip, Browne will finish by running the pipe. Against Rob Broughton, Browne finished every single leg he attempted, even as he got very tired from fighting at altitude.
From the top position, Browne has devastating elbows. Like his team mate Jon Jones, Browne excels at getting just enough space to throw a vicious downward elbow. Additionally, his control is excellent, meaning that Browne is overall an awful fighter to be underneath. In particular, Browne has made a habit of beating the tar out of his opponent from the mount.
Since Browne has yet to be taken down inside the Octagon, it's safe to say his takedown defense is pretty sturdy. He's a difficult man to wrestle because he's exceptionally strong inside the clinch and does a very good job widening his base if he's being pressed against the cage with a double leg.
Despite this, Browne has nearly been taken down a couple times. Gonzaga ducked a head kick and got deep on a single, while Overeem tried to throw a worn down Browne with a single leg. Both times, Browne showed off a Chuck Liddell-esque ability to spring to his feet before his opponent could establish top position.
Finally, Browne has turned his takedown defense into offense. As his opponent goes for his legs, Browne lands sideways elbows to the area around the ear. The reason Browne can use this technique while many other fighers cannot is his balance. Most fighters require the use of both hands to prevent the takedown, while Browne can balance himself on a wide base and still generate power with his upper body.
Currently a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Browne has showed some solid grappling skills. He hasn't done anything extraordinary or flashy, but he has not exposed any weakness either.
On top, Browne does a very good job passing through his opponent's guard. He powered through Broughton's guard repeatedly, using heavy hips to push his way into the mount. Similarly, "Hapa" mashed Griggs' face with elbows until he could work his way out of half guard. Against both men, Browne then showed that his control from mount was quite strong.
Once Browne mounted him, Griggs began to panic a bit. He tried to roll to his stomach, but Browne was staying too tight and trapped Griggs on his side. From this position, he wrapped his arm around Griggs' neck and outstretched arm, securing the arm triangle choke. He then moved to side control, squeezed, and got the tap.
The closest moment we've come to seeing Browne on his back came in his bout with Stefan Struve. After throwing Struve to the mat, he failed to pass the lanky "Skyscraper's" guard. He stood up and seemed to be questioning his next move, but Struve interrupted with a sweep attempt. Browne stumbled onto his knees, and Struve nearly locked up an anaconda choke. However, Browne should good defense by shaking the Dutchman off of his neck and returning to his feet.
Best Chance For Success
Obviously, Browne should not go to the ground with Werdum under any circumstances. Even if Werdum is hurt, he's still quite dangerous. Instead, Browne should stay relaxed and pressure Werdum with his long punches and kicks.
Werdum does not do well when his back is pushed into the cage. From this position, it will be easier for Browne to land his power punches or a flying knee. Additionally, he could step forward and grab the Muay Thai plum. The two men are fairly close in height, so whoever gets the better position in the clinch will do more damage. Also, Browne's probably got a strength advantage on the inside.
It's important that Browne paces himself. This is a five round fight and he cannot afford to blow his gas tank trying to force a knockout. Werdum is a crafty fighter -- there's a reason he's only ever been finished by strikes once. If Browne controls the center and works his game, he can put himself in the position to either win a decision or land the knockout blow.
Will Browne take out the Brazilian or can Werdum pull off the upset?