In the electrifying buildup to UFC 168, there's a fight flying under the radar. It doesn't have a single thing to do with pre-fight banter or elaborate rivalries. Instead, it's about matters far more primal.
Before fans are treated to Anderson Silva's first walk to the Octagon as challenger since 2006 or even Ronda Rousey's first title defense, a pair of heavyweights will clash inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Oh, and it's no ordinary heavyweight tilt—Josh Barnett and Travis Browne know how to deliver.
With 39 career fights to his name, Barnett is the consummate been-there-done-that kind of fighter. He's got the pedigree and proven track record necessary to perform in his late-career run at a UFC title.
If you delve deep into his history, you'll spot names like Dan Severn, Semmy Schilt, Sergei Kharitonov, Randy Couture and Mirko Filipovic. The "Warmaster" has fought in countless organizations, with emphasis on his most memorable years under the Pride FC banner.
Even his most severe detractors wouldn't argue against his submission grappling expertise—he's tapped several of the names above. If he's not taking the fight to the canvas, he can be pretty destructive in the clinch also.
And he'll need every bit of that experience and all the tools of his veteran trade to overcome the momentum that Browne has built up as of late.
Unlike the 36-year-old Barnett, "Hapa" has considerably less wear and tear. Save for a freak-injury loss to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva last year, Browne is essentially unscathed and undefeated. His confidence is likely to be at an all-time high, considering he recently weathered an nearly unimaginable storm shortly before stopping Alistair Overeem.
Beyond the background story, the numbers also paint a tantalizing picture.
- Average height of both fighters: 6'5"
- Browne's takedown defense rate: 100 percent
- Combined total fights of both fighters: 55
- Reach of both fighters: 78"
- Percent of Browne's 15 career victories that have come by way of knockout: 73 percent
- Percent of Barnett's 33 victories that have come by way of submission: 61 percent
- Browne's average fight time: 06:15
- Average percent of the time either fighter goes to decision: 13 percent
The figures don't lie—this is the kind of fight that's bursting with exciting potential. They're similar in the stats that keep things competitive, but differ in those that will lead to a tug of war between a standing affair and a ground battle.
Then there's also the matter of finish rates.
The last time Barnett has won via decision? Ten fights ago in May 2008. Browne? September 2011.
Both men also have extraordinary chins, so if this thing turns into a slugfest, we could be in for another heavyweight war.
As if the general atmosphere of a year-end card wasn't reason enough to inspire grand performances, both Barnett and Browne have an added impetus to go that extra mile. The UFC is planning to have the winner take on Fabricio Werdum for a huge heavyweight title eliminator bout.
The more you consider it, the easier it is to imagine UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby grinning ear-to-ear when they booked this fight to lead into the co-main and main events.
These big boys hit hard, fast and with enough bad intentions to force a stoppage at nearly every turn. Rest assured that when that arena roars on Saturday night, they'll answer the call—and we'll all be in for a wild ride.