UFC on Fox 11: Travis Browne and the 5 Most Exciting Heavyweights in the UFC
Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Fabricio "Vai Cavalo" Werdum (17-5-1) and Travis "Hapa" Browne (16-1-1) square off to determine the No. 1 contender to Cain Velasquez's heavyweight throne.
Werdum, a master on the mat, is a two-time ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship gold medalist. He is fully capable of submitting any fighter in the world, as demonstrated by his upset victory over Fedor Emelianenko—which ended "The Last Emperor's" 28-fight unbeaten streak.
Browne, who is on quite the impressive streak as well—including three consecutive Knockout of the Night awards—has showcased boundless potential and a unique flair when it comes to finishing fights.
He has quickly become one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster, which makes him a perfect fit for the sport's grandest of weight classes.
It's a division full of violent finishers and exhilarating sluggers. But which heavyweights do it the best? Which ones get fans' blood pumping like a heavy dose of adrenaline?
Here are the five most thrilling heavyweights in the UFC. Has Browne earned a place atop them all?
Honorable Mention: Stefan Struve
Stefan Struve is never in a boring fight. He deserves to be on this list, but he’s been sidelined for more than a year with a serious heart condition.
Following a TKO loss at the hands of hard-hitting Mark Hunt, Struve was diagnosed with a leaky aortic valve and an enlarged heart. He was sidelined indefinitely.
But earlier this month the Dutch heavyweight revealed he had been medically cleared to return to the UFC. And that is reason to rejoice. In his 31 professional fights, a Struve fight has gone the distance just once.
Again, in his eight-year, 31-fight career, he has been to a decision just once. He is a fighter, and the number of times that his name will be brought up throughout this list is only a testament to his courage in the Octagon.
Struve and his team expect a return to the UFC as early as this summer.
5. Roy Nelson
In the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi, “Big Country” stepped into the Octagon with the quintessential formula for excitement in combat sports: a case-hardened chin and huge knockout power.
He stalked Nogueira, sent him to the canvas once and then finished the job four minutes into the fight. As fans have seen so many times before, Nelson did what does best. He stepped in with his left foot, feinted and uncorked his fierce overhand right.
It’s the same right hand that put Brendan Schaub to sleep in Nelson’s UFC debut—the same right hand that knocked out and staggered other fine strikers like Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. And it's the same right hand that chopped down giants like 6’11” Stefan Struve, 6’4” Dave Herman and 6’7” Brad Imes.
But, Nelson, even when on the receiving end of a thumping, is still a treat to watch. Before separating “Big Nog” from his senses, The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 winner was amidst a two-fight losing skid. And though Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic outclassed him, the threat of Nelson’s overhand right loomed over his conquerors.
It’s this sort of ever-present chance of a knockout on top of a seemingly impenetrable chin that separates Big Country from the rest of the division just enough to kick-start this countdown.
4. Cain Velasquez
UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez may be the most efficient fighter on the planet.
He has outboxed the boxers and outwrestled the wrestlers. His blend of level changes and deceptive power were too much for the division’s most dangerous striker Junior dos Santos to handle on two separate occasions. And Velasquez’s wrestling and unrelenting ground-and-pound broke NCAA national wrestling champion Brock Lesnar to win the heavyweight title back in 2010.
The Arizona State University product may not be overly flamboyant in his approach—instead looking to break his opponents’ will with a steady serving of attrition—but finishes equal excitement, and that’s just what Velasquez delivers.
Of his 13 professional victories, he’s forced a TKO in 11 of them. Velasquez is second to none when it comes to violence inside of the Octagon and first when it comes to heavyweights.
He will defend this claim against the winner of the UFC on Fox 11 main event between Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne. The title defense is reportedly set to take place in Mexico, per Dana White pre-fight press conference for Saturday's event.
3. Junior Dos Santos
Racking up seven knockout victories in his UFC career alone, Junior dos Santos is a blockbuster of a striker. He also has an unrelenting will to win. That will has seen him maybe take a beating or two too many if he has any interest in doing this fighting stuff for the foreseeable future.
But that’s why his fans adore him and why he is the epitome of what it means to be an MMA fighter and one of the most exciting combatants in the history of sport.
“Cigano” came out of Brazil and took over the UFC like a crusader. At UFC 90, Dos Santos—then a fresh-faced, shaggy-haired newcomer—made the MMA world take note when he nearly decapitated Fabricio Werdum with a terrifying uppercut, knocking him out cold inside of Round 1.
For the next four years, there wasn’t a heavyweight on Earth who could stop him.
Kickboxers Stefan Struve, Gilbert Yvel and Mirko Filipovic and Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizards Frank Mir and Gabriel Gonzaga all succumbed to Dos Santos’ punches, with just "Cro-Cop" making it out of the second round. Only Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin somehow extended Cigano the distance. Even current heavyweight ruler Cain Velasquez wasn’t ready for Dos Santos the first time around.
This phenomenal run culminated in three Knockout of the Night bonuses, the longest winning streak in UFC heavyweight history and a UFC championship.
Dos Santos has since been dethroned but has still looked every bit the pugilistic dynamo that made him so wonderful. After losing the belt, he became just the second man to knock Mark Hunt out in an MMA match—by way of an exhilarating spinning hook kick, no less—and teamed up with rival Velasquez in maybe the most violent heavyweight title fight in MMA history at UFC 166.
Dos Santos joins Stipe Miocic on May 31 in Brazil to headline The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil Finale.
2. Travis Browne
Long have the big fellas held a soft spot in the hearts of fight fans, and they don’t get too much bigger than Travis Browne. Per UFC.com, “Hapa” stands a staggering 6’7” and typically weighs in around 255 pounds, making it all that more thrilling when he performs inside the cage.
Big guys like him aren’t supposed to be as light on their feet as he is. But this former collegiate basketball player isn’t a typical heavyweight. With every flying knee (like the one he landed on Chad Griggs) or fight-ending elbow (like the barrage he finished Josh Barnett and Gabriel Gonzaga with), Browne’s freak athleticism and innovative technique and strategy have helped usher in a new heavyweight era.
His superman-punch knockout of Struve is one of the most spectacular moments in heavyweight history.
On the cusp of a title shot, Browne is on a roll. Winner of six of his last seven bouts, he has earned three consecutive Knockout of the Night bonuses—all against world-class talent, no less. With each finish taking place in the first round and being even more destructive than the last, Hapa's roaring momentum is why he earns such high placement here.
Fabricio Werdum will have a stern test this Saturday when he attempts to put a halt to this runaway freight train.
1. Mark Hunt
Mark Hunt had this sealed up from the beginning. And how could he not?
Dubbed "The Super Samoan," he is a tiny ball of fury. The smallest of the biggest men, he is a former K-1 kickboxing champion. He possesses the knockout power that is capable of igniting a nuclear war and a chin that is durable enough to withstand one.
He’s a combatant with the experience of two fighters. He made his mark in kickboxing, recording more than 40 professional matches and winning the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix Championship. Then he dabbled in MMA. And after a rough start, he turned out great in that too.
Despite a 5-7 record and dropping his UFC debut to Sean McCorkle (who would only fight in the UFC two more times), Hunt has been on the most improbable of runs since his dispatching of Chris Tuchscherer via walk-away KO in 2011. And fans have held onto their seats with pleasure every step of the way.
He’s gone on to outlast Ben Rothwell en route to a unanimous-decision victory, earn a TKO over French striker Cheick Kongo and break Stefan Struve’s jaw despite an astronomical 14-inch height disadvantage.
He was knocked out by Junior dos Santos in May of last year but only after trading heavy leather with the former champion and nearly finishing him in the process. That display of beautiful brutality earned both men Fight of the Night honors.
And then, of course, there is Hunt’s most recent outing in Australia against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. In a Fight of the Year candidate, The Super Samoan and Silva engaged in a firefight for the ages. It was the best heavyweight tilt since Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Randy Couture locked horns in 2009. The back-and-forth action was grimacing. The barbarity involved was outright ghastly.
And Hunt—the most exciting heavyweight fighting today—wouldn’t have had it any other way.