Tonight (April 19, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweights Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne will square off in the pivotal main event of UFC on FOX 11, airing live at 8 p.m. EST from Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
The winner has been promised a title shot at returning champion Cain Velasquez's belt at UFC's first-ever event in Mexico, making this the biggest bout of each fighter's career.
Last seen submitting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC on Fuel TV 10 in June 2013, No. 2-ranked Werdum has been out of action for a while. He won his previous two bouts over Mike Russow and Roy Nelson, marking a solid three-fight win streak since returning to the Octagon in early 2012.
However, No. 3-ranked Browne has compiled a three-fight win streak of an entirely different sort.
"Hapa" has steamrolled all three of his opponents since suffering the first loss of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in October 2012. Last seen dismantling longtime veteran Josh Barnett with a vicious knockout at UFC 168, Browne earned "Knockout of the Night" after each of his three recent wins.
He's built up arguably the most momentum in all of UFC, and can cap it off with a title shot-sealing win in Orlando. He just has to beat one of the finest ground wizards in the sport to do it.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Werdum vs. Browne:
Record: 17-5-1 overall, 5-2 UFC
Key Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor v. Werdum), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC on Fuel TV 10), Alistair Overeem (Pride Total Elimination Absolute), Roy Nelson (UFC 143), Gabriel Gonzaga (UFC 80, Jungle Fight 1)
Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC 90), Alistair Overeem (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Critical Countdown Absolute)
Keys to Victory: Werdum has recently teased that he's willing to stand and trade with Browne, but in reality that's a clear-cut path to a first round knockout loss. "Hapa's" power has looked absolutely otherworldly, so it's far from a secret that Werdum needs to get this fight to the ground.
"Vai Cavalo" has an extensive list of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling accomplishments. If he can drag "Hapa" to the mat, he should be able to win this fight and all that goes with it. Browne has never been submitted, but we've never really seen him taken down by a high-level grappler like Werdum.
Werdum's Muay Thai has been improving by leaps and bounds in recent years. However, it's still not enough to compete with the raw speed and athleticism of a special fighter like Browne.
Somehow, Werdum has to get this fight to the mat. It won't be easy, as fighters who attempt unsuccessful takedowns on Browne have been met with a relentless barrage of knockout-inducing elbows to the head. Clinching Browne against the cage could neutralize Browne's striking a bit, but he also has lethal knees from that position.
All told, Werdum has a lot to prove against the surging Browne. Making it a grappling match is his only way to stop "Hapa's" hype train.
Record: 16-1-1 overall, 6-1-1 UFC
Key wins: Josh Barnett (UFC 168), 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 looked like an absolute buzz saw during his recent string of bonus-winning victories. He's also shown a ton of heart, evident by his come-from-behind victory over former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
Browne has never faced a mat technician the caliber of Werdum, but you can bet he's not planning on letting the fight get to that point.
Werdum has only been knocked out by dos Santos. While there's not much shame in that, Browne is on a similar level in terms of striking, except "Hapa" has more ways to dispatch his opponents. He's going to look for a multitude of various kicks, knees, punches, and elbows to make sure this fight ends quickly.
He's motivated to prove he's the best heavyweight in the world, so it's on Werdum to prove him wrong.
Obviously Browne has to show up with his takedown defense at a new height. Getting dumped on the canvas may not spell certain doom for him, but it's certainly within the realm of distinct possibilities. We've never seen Browne taken to the limit in the Octagon, something that just might happen if Werdum can secure a takedown.
That's a big if, however.
Browne has become incredibly efficient at making opponents who grapple with him pay, and this fight may be no different. With confidence and momentum on his side, expect to see the best Browne of all-time.
Bottom Line from Orlando: The bottom line for this fight is transparent: a new UFC heavyweight title contender will emerge.
It's kind of hard to decipher why Werdum is ranked above Browne at the current moment, although that won't matter once the dust settles on UFC on FOX 11. It's also kind of hard to imagine a scenario where Browne loses, but stranger things have happened.
Werdum shocked the world when he ended legendary champion Emelianenko's 10-year unbeaten streak with a gasp-worthy triangle choke in 2010, and he could do the same to an unwitting Browne.
Training with master strategist Greg Jackson, it's highly improbable that Browne lets himself be lulled into a similar sense of false security. "Hapa" knows what is at stake here, and he has a leg up on Werdum in terms of recent experience.
Beating Nogueira and Russow is good, but Browne will provide a much different test for Werdum. Werdum's ground skills are top-shelf and always will be, but whether or not he can wrap Browne in a fight-ending hold is a different issue altogether.
As a nearly a 2-to-1 favorite, Browne's time to shine is now. He'll be on the lookout for a huge knockout, and given his latest performances, it's hard to imagine him not achieving that goal.
Werdum has to prove he deserves his lofty ranking, and a win over Browne is the perfect way to do just that. Getting him to the ground and neutralizing his thunderous power is the only way to get it.
Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne will battle for a shot at coveted gold. Can ‘Vai Cavalo' put a stop to Browne's violent rush through the UFC heavyweight division?