If Travis Browne intends to be a contender in the UFC heavyweight division, the undefeated Hawaiian has to make his 6-foot-7-inch, 250-pound body climb, crawl, shimmy or soar over it in the main event of Friday night's UFC on FX event in Minneapolis (8 p.m. ET, FX).
You might look back at recent events involving the sport's big boys and leap to the conclusion that the bar was set -- and set very high at that -- just a week ago when we saw 7-foot Stefan Struve score an eye-opening knockout of previously unbeaten Stipe Miocic. But Browne need not measure himself against the towering Dutchman. He's already done that, not through a comparison of their respective octagon achievements but directly, man to man and fist to face, knocking out Struve in the first round of their fight last year.
The past fights that Browne will be measured against are not Struve's, not even his own, but those of Friday's opponent, Antonio Silva. "Bigfoot" has lost his last two bouts, and both defeats have been ugly. Thirteen months ago he faced Daniel Cormier in a semifinal of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, and the two-time Olympic wrestler looked like a champion boxer that night, knocking out the big Brazilian in the first round. Then, in May, former UFC champion Cain Velasquez put Silva on his back within seconds and proceeded to batter him into a bloody mess before the fight was mercifully stopped midway through the first.
So, Travis, we've seen a UFC championship-level heavyweight and a Strikeforce Grand Prix winner set the bar pretty high against Bigfoot. Can you elevate your game?
"The heavyweight division is more stacked than ever. It is so hard to get into the top five right now," Browne acknowledged following the main event fighters' open workouts earlier in the week. "And everyone is looking so impressive, so you have to be consistently impressive. I've had some good wins, and I've had wins where I wish I could have shown more. The key now is to fight at the best of my ability for every fight."
Browne (13-0-1) had better put that plan into effect Friday night. Though the freshest image of Silva is of two crushing defeats that make his own ability to rise among the ranks of heavyweights a long-term pursuit, he's not to be confused for a mere steppingstone. Going into the Cormier fight, Bigfoot was 16-2 and coming off an astounding beatdown of Fedor Emelianenko. He's no small threat -- in more ways than one. He weighed in Thursday afternoon at 266 pounds, giving him a 20-pound edge that might very well increase by the time he and Browne walk into the cage rehydrated and well fed. If Silva can get the fight to the mat, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is capable of smothering the Hawaiian and rendering his quick standup attack useless. And that's exactly what Bigfoot intends to do.
"I know I can take him down to the ground and ground-and-pound him," Silva said following the fighter workouts. "For sure, that is where I am very dangerous. But I have been training very, very hard on my standup. He is a very tough guy, undefeated, but I am so, so confident I will beat him inside two rounds."
Two rounds? That's confidence bordering on cockiness, a trait that showed itself during Thursday's weigh-in, when Silva got right up in Browne's face and locked on an unwavering staredown. Browne, for his part, seemed taken aback but did not back down. "He is not going to intimidate me in that way," the 30-year-old said in an interview during the Fuel TV weigh-in show. "Nobody can, nobody will, and I wanted to show him that."
So what exactly does Browne intend to show Silva and the mixed martial arts world? If he relies on Bigfoot's last two fights as blueprints, the avenues to victory would appear to be to keep the fight standing, a la Cormier, or to get on top of the big man, as Velasquez did. Browne seized top position from Chad Griggs in his last fight, back in April, and elicited a tapout via arm-triangle choke, but it was just the second submission of his 13-fight career. That he has nine knockouts tells you what you need to know about Browne's bread and butter. Silva can talk all he wants about working hard on his standup. If this fight stays standing, he's the one most likely to end up on the mat involuntarily and woozily.
That's simply the way it has to be if Browne wants to keep pace with the heavyweight elite. He knows it. "I need to go out there and dominate," he said during the Fuel TV show. "There is no doubt about it. Stefan Struve has been on a tear lately, and I was his last defeat. People are going to be looking at me and thinking where they are going to place me. I need to go out there and show people I belong."
Having said that, he's not putting pressure on himself to replicate the Cormier and Velasquez KO's. Though nine of his finishes have come in the first round, five within the first minute, Browne insists he is in no rush. "I'm always looking to finish, but if it goes five rounds I am ready," he said after the weigh-in. "If I do that, I know I can impress and move up the rankings. I feel I am better than ever, and it is my time to shine."
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