Travis Browne Looked Great at UFC 168, but Can He Hang with Heavyweight Elite?

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Travis Browne Looked Great at UFC 168, but Can He Hang with Heavyweight Elite?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Travis Browne looked phenomenal against Josh Barnett at UFC 168

After getting picked apart on the feet early in Round 1 by the lankier and quicker Browne, Barnett attempted a takedown, which directly lost him the fight. 

Browne crushed his foe with a knee as he shot in, and "Hapa" followed this attack with a series of elbows from Hades, earning an impressive knockout victory just one minute into the first round. 

The win was ferocious. It was flawless. 

It proved that Browne is ready for anybody on the UFC's heavyweight roster. 

This proclamation is not made in haste, and it is based on more than Browne's victory over Barnett. 

 

Why He's Unique

Truthfully, Browne had already shown that he could hang against the division's best; this fight simply sealed that notion. 

A few things stick out in his fights that are absolutely essential qualities of a championship-caliber fighter. 

First, Browne does not move like a heavyweight. He is an athletic freak. 

At 6'7" and 242 pounds, he is a gigantic dude, but he is light on his feet and regularly executes moves that require grace and finesse. He is one of the smoothest—if not the smoothest—heavyweights in the UFC, and he is also one of the largest. 

His combination of power, speed and variety in his striking game is horrifying, and he can end any bout with a sudden flick of the hips. Since he can perform essentially every strike in the book (we've seen him end fights with elbows, front kicks, Superman punches and head kicks), his opponents are forever wary of what's next. 

This gives him a distinct advantage on the feet. 

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

 

The Loss That Wasn't 

Browne lost in dramatic knockout fashion to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva at UFC on FX 5 in October 2012, and this bout represents the lone loss on his record. 

After controlling the fight on the feet in Round 1, Hapa started to unleash some flashy high kicks, blowing out his knee in the process. 

Limping and virtually immobile, he became an easy target for his foe, and Bigfoot swept in for the easy kill, taking care of business with some big right hands. While the loss looks bad for Browne on paper, he still looked excellent before the injury. 

When a fighter suffers a serious, game-changing injury and continues to fight, a loss is excusable. Browne could barely stand up after hurting his knee, and the ruthless finisher Silva saw his opportunity and pounced. 

Very few fighters could fight somebody like Bigfoot on one leg. If we ran this fight back 10 times with a full-strength Browne, we would see a different man's hand raised at least nine times, and I believe Browne would take all 10. 

 

The Future

The scariest aspect of Browne's game is that it's still evolving. 

He looks better each time he steps into the Octagon, which can be attributed to his outstanding training camp at Jackson's MMA

Early projections point to Fabricio Werdum as Browne's next opponent, and the winner of that fight will receive a title fight against Cain Velasquez. 

This one-two lineup of Werdum-Velasquez is treacherous. 

Werdum possesses world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials, and his Muay Thai looks better and better with each trip to the cage. 

Velasquez, on the other hand, is the most dominant heavyweight in UFC history. His boxing is beautiful, and he utilizes a smothering, grinding style that wears down his opponents and saps the fight out of them before they can mount any offense. A comeback against the champion is unlikely; if you want to beat him, you have to catch him early. 

Browne is the man to do that. 

Velasquez has struggled against powerful strikers in the past, losing via knockout to Junior dos Santos at UFC on Fox 1 and getting rocked repeatedly by Cheick Kongo at UFC 99. 

While his game has evolved since that time, Velasquez's chin and striking defense remain his weakest areas, and Browne only needs a small opening to turn out the lights. 

With his size, athleticism and ever-expanding skill set, Browne matches up well with anybody at heavyweight, including the champ. 

 

What Can Hold Him Back? 

Besides another unfortunate injury, some questions remain for Browne. 

How is his takedown defense? What about his cardio? 

Looking forward to a showdown with Velasquez, these are the two worst questions for Browne to have hanging over his head, as the champ is a phenomenal wrestler with never-ending cardio. 

When he hasn't earned a first-round stoppage, Browne has looked decidedly average in the UFC. He fought to a unanimous draw against Cheick Kongo and won a decision against Rob Broughton.

Thankfully for him, this only happened twice in nine contests.  

Taking this thought a step further, does any heavyweight's chances improve as a fight drags on against Velasquez?

Certainly, excellent cardio would benefit a fighter against the champ, but even if Browne enlisted the help of Olympic marathon trainers today, his cardio would probably still not match Velasquez's on fight day. Browne does not have an advantage in this department against the champ, but which heavyweight does? 

The second question regarding Browne's takedown defense and bottom game is a tricky beast to answer. 

We haven't seen much of it, because Browne keeps racking up first-round knockouts instead. He's faced powerful grapplers like Gabriel Gonzaga and Josh Barnett, and he's knocked them out. 

He's eaten knees from the clinch of Alistair Overeem, and he knocked him out, too. 

When fighters tie up with Browne against the cage and pursue a takedown, they get knocked out by his elbows. He proved that point against Barnett at UFC 168 and against Gonzaga at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale before that. 

Still, Velasquez is a different type of animal, and Browne's ability to stop the takedown and pressure-heavy game of the champ will remain unanswered until the two square off. 

 

Where Does He Stand? 

Browne is an elite heavyweight. 

When evaluating his skills, we come down to two major questions, and they could prove problematic against Werdum and Velasquez. 

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

A powerful puncher and technical boxer like Junior dos Santos could also knock Browne out with one swing of the fist, but nearly every heavyweight poses that threat (granted, dos Santos is a little better than most at it). 

With Daniel Cormier no longer in the division, I see nobody else on the UFC's heavyweight roster who would be favored against Browne. 

There are three guys ahead of him, and a top-four status is unquestionably elite. 

Huge fights await him in the future, and only then will we see just how well he can perform. 

For now, based on past performances and future potential, I have two words left to describe Browne: future champ. 

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