If you found UFC 208 to be a bit disappointing, chances are UFC Fight Night 105 will not inspire feelings of excitement. With a pair of heavyweight contenders in the main event on Sunday, fight fans at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, could either be in for a thrilling knockout -- both Derrick Lewis and Travis Browne have delivered their fair share -- or a five-round slog; these are heavyweights, after all. Nonetheless, there are a few interesting matchups and developing narratives to keep the truly dedicated interested.
Foremost among these is the middleweight debut of Johny Hendricks, whose career has taken something of a nosedive since his brief tenure as Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder. Can Hendricks find new life at 185 pounds, freed from the brutal weight cuts for which he is now known, or will his last fighting years reflect those of Mike Thomas Brown, another great fighter whose prime ended just after achieving his highest success? Hector Lombard looks to tell the latter story and rebound from his own recent losses in the process. Further down the card, thick-haired Twitter star Elias Theodorou battles resurgent ground specialist Cezar Ferreira in another intriguing middleweight contest, and welterweights Nordine Taleb and Santiago Ponzinibbio aim to find out who deserves a crack at the top 10.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Lewis vs. Browne” matchup, with analysis and picks (current odds):
HeavyweightsDerrick Lewis (17-4) vs. Travis Browne (18-5-1)
THE MATCHUP: Everyone loves Lewis. Not only is the massive heavyweight an entertaining puncher inside the cage, but his absurdist humor and laconic post-fight speeches lend him an air of approachability.
Lewis has spoken in the past about his feelings towards fighting. Somewhat surprisingly, the 6-foot-3, 264-pound wrecking machine struggles to control his nerves when he steps into the Octagon. He does not necessarily like fighting; he is just very good at it. It is with that knowledge in mind that I gained a new appreciation for the developments Lewis has made in recent years. Can he still be taken down? Yes. Can he still be hurt? Absolutely. However, the Lewis of 2014 was a much more desperate fighter. He would panic when his back hit the canvas or fall into wild, 50/50 exchanges and leave his chin hanging in the air to be plucked by a well-placed punch.
The Lewis of 2016 and 2017 is a different “Beast” entirely. Despite his persistent flaws, he seems to have gained a sense of clarity in his fights. Now, when Lewis is taken down, he adopts a sort of meditative calm that might remind some fight fans of the great Anderson Silva. His striking battles are slower-paced, too, but this works to his advantage. Lewis is not only powerful but shockingly fast for a man of his stature. Lewis knows he needs just one clear opening to end the fight, and he is liable to bide his time and wait for it to materialize on its own. If throwing volume and trading punches increases his chances of winning quickly, then playing the waiting game makes his thunderbolt strikes more surprising and allows him to stretch out the fight. The more time Lewis spends in the cage with his opponent, the more chances he has to get the job done.
A fighter like Lewis is always one off-night away from defeat, but he has enjoyed far more “on-nights” than Browne of late. Since departing Jackson-Wink MMA to join up with Edmond Tarverdyan in 2014, Browne is just 2-for-5. Granted, his losses are nothing of which to be ashamed. Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski are all dangerous men and championship-caliber opponents.
It is not the fact that Browne lost those bouts but the way in which he lost them that troubles us. Under Greg Jackson, Browne was a fighter who understood his purpose in the cage. He worked to set up his shots and threw a wide variety of different kicks, punches and knees. Jackson seemed to harness Browne’s athleticism rather than relying on it, and he regularly used his well-roundedness and titanic frame to his advantage.
Under Tarverdyan, on the other hand, Browne has become noticeably more limited. Rather than a rangy kicker with a killer clinch, he now prefers to box; and while Browne has more than enough power to put away heavyweights, he no longer sets up his strikes with the same ease and confidence. Instead, Browne typically opts to wait on opportunities to counter. Like Lewis, he seems to have no particular game plan beyond the obvious, but as a slower and less powerful striker, his game necessitates a greater level of technique to work. Tarverdyan, to his credit, has cleaned up Browne’s technique -- but not enough. To drift aimlessly through fights in search of a knockout blow, one either needs excellent technical execution and tactical thinking or insane, life-changing power. Browne has neither.
Browne’s edge in this fight is his ground game. He is not lost on the mat, and while Lewis has an uncanny ability to ride out unfavorable positions, Browne’s size and ferocious ground-and-pound makes him a serious threat to a flattened-out opponent. If Lewis loses this bout, it will very likely come as the result of a power takedown from Browne, quickly followed by a barrage of punches from mount. Then again, Lewis has become something of a ground-and-pound savant in his own right, and he will look for the opportunity to do the same to Browne.
THE ODDS: Lewis (-125), Browne (+105)
THE PICK: Lewis and Browne are in a weird way very similar fighters. Both seem to drift through fights without any particular direction beyond the vague desire to land a knockout punch. However, whereas Browne’s tendencies represent a confusing departure from his former style, Lewis’ approach smacks of patience and confidence. He is not aimless but single-minded. By my reckoning, Lewis is the hardest hitter in the heavyweight division; and if you know heavyweights, you know that is a serious accolade. Conserving energy and waiting for the knockout blow just makes sense for Lewis, and there is never any doubt in my mind when I watch him fight that he knows precisely what he wants to do. Lewis is not the most durable man in the world and his takedown defense remains worryingly porous, but he gives off the aura of a man who knows with perfect certainty that he will find a way to put his opponent to sleep. Lewis by third-round KO is the pick.
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