UFC 168 went down Saturday night from Las Vegas. In one of the most evenly matched fights on the card, heavyweights Travis Browne and Josh Barnett did battle to determine the newest contender in the division.
Browne was thought to have an edge in the striking department, while Barnett supposedly held the grappling advantage. One man (Browne) was able to leverage his advantage, while the other never got the chance. Browne used crushing elbows to the head of Barnett to take the knockout victory in the very first round and earn Knockout of the Night bonus honors from the UFC after the fact.
So where does each heavyweight go from here? First, the victor. In his last three fights, Browne has knocked out—and not technical knockouts, either, but clean KOs—Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and now Barnett. He has done each in the first round and needed a grand total of six minutes and 19 seconds to accomplish those three finishes. Further, he received a Knockout of the Night bonus for each.
It's all because Browne is one of the heaviest hitters in the heaviest-hitting division, while moving on his feet like a man three sizes below him. There's no more writing off Browne as a fluke or unfounded hype. It ain't fluky, and the hype is founded. He's a bona fide contender, fit for a title shot tomorrow.
There's just one problem: Champion Cain Velasquez is on the shelf until late 2014 after undergoing shoulder surgery. But never fear.
The UFC announced before UFC 168 that the Browne-Barnett winner would face Fabricio Werdum, with the winner of that probably facing an extended hiatus while waiting for Velasquez to return. Werdum has a very heavy jiu-jitsu game, so this fight will probably be another striker-grappler matchup.
Now for Barnett. His picture is a little murkier. At 36, Barnett is no spring chicken, but he's talented and (seemingly) hungry enough to have plenty of fights and wins left in him. From time to time, he'll probably face a young buck like Browne, hungry for a trophy to pump up his resume.
For now, how about Roy Nelson? The winner could remain in the gatekeeper discussion. Barnett would seem at first glance to have an advantage there, but Nelson's grappling is long forgotten (including by Nelson). That would be a good fight for determining which veteran still has some fight left in him.