Saturday, May 23
MGM Grand Garden Arena | Las Vegas
When the opening bell sounded between Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne at UFC 187, fans thought they knew what to expect. Two heavy-hitting heavyweights -- one a former champion, the other hailed as a potential future champion -- would meet in the middle and throw bombs until one of them went unconscious. True to the high-drama of combat, fans got exactly what they thought they would, yet at the same time, the way it unfolded was completely unpredictable.
As former training partners at Jackson-Wink MMA, there was a tense opening minute. They were feeling each other out, but the pawing jabs and anxious feints were not an absence of action so much as a fizzing up of it. After 40 seconds of having the proverbial bottle shaken up, Browne threw a dipping jab and Arlovski uncorked a short right hook counter that rocked the Hawaiian and set in motion the most action-packed four minutes of the year in Sherdog.com’s 2015 “Round of the Year.”
After Arlovski tagged Browne, he chased “Hapa” across the cage to the fence, following up with vicious flurries. Browne covered up and shoved off Arlovski, forcing the fight back to the middle of the Octagon. Arlovski leaped in with a shot to the body and daisy-chained a winging right hook that clipped Browne in the temple and wobbled him -- again.
Remember: These are Andrei Arlovski punches we are talking about, shots that would fold lesser men instantaneously. Browne, however, soldiered onward into the fight as it seemed to slip further and further into the Belarusian’s favor. Somehow, “Hapa” recovered from the second thumping and started to make Arlovski pay with crisp jabs from range. Arlovski whiffed on an overhand, and Browne started to connect with counters. He snuck in a left hook that landed flush on Arlovski, trapping a cold breath at the back of the audience’s throat as they waited to see if the Glass Cannon of Arlovski’s chin would crack. It did not. He shook it off, as Browne continued to stalk him. Within half a round and two near-knockdowns, the fight found a brief reprieve from the opening chaos.
Sensing an opportunity, Browne faked a left hook and landed a long right hand, immediately bobbing under Arlovski’s counter right hook that shook him earlier. As Browne swung his hips back around to follow the combo with a left hook of his own, Arlovski slid a right-fisted backhand into the momentum of Browne’s moving head, and his legs loosened up on impact.
“The Pit Bull” started to unload again, and even though Browne looked like he was walking on stilts, he covered up and recovered, convincing Arlovski to back up and restart. It was not clear as to who the fresher fighter was at this point -- the man who took the punishment or the man who appeared to be punching himself into exhaustion giving it away.
With deep breaths and wild eyes, Arlovski put the pressure on again, backing Browne across the cage with forward-flying flurries. Browne stood his ground, though, launching a right hand at the same time Arlovski moved in to land one of his own. They both missed and ducked to their lefts to set up their next strikes. It was violence in a synchronistic, even harmonious balance -- a pugilistic yin and yang equipoised in a single tic in time. This moment, however brief, would be the last time the fight felt at all even: two high-level punchers, in the exact same positions, setting up the exact same counter. There is no truer test in combat than such moments.
Browne loaded up with a monstrous left hook that would have surely knocked the former champion senseless with a connection. Not to be denied, the veteran Arlovski whipped the same right-fisted backhand counter from earlier and it found its target a shade of a second sooner, suspending Browne’s body mid-punch. Another right hand to the Hawaiian’s temple and “Hapa” hit the deck. The fight was over -- it had to be.
It was not.
Arlovski rained down what should have been obligatory hammerfists, but yet again, Browne fumbled himself upright, half-consciously lifting his arms up to cover his head. Sensing blood, Arlovski poured it on his weakened foe with frenzied straight punch combos. Amidst the onslaught, a glimmer of hope presented itself to the barely-awake Browne, and he intercepted Arlovski with a right hand that landed pinpoint on the chin. The Glass Cannon chipped, and Arlovski curlicued to the floor.
Still dazed, Browne tried to follow Arlovski to the ground with punches. Through the wordless screams of commentator Joe Rogan, an implicit reality was understood by all: This had become a storybook comeback. It had to be.
Of course, no such narrative would materialize. While trying to end the fight with hammerfists, the still-stunned Browne stumbled over the scrambling Arlovski, who popped up to his feet. Everyone watching knew that the end was nigh, but who the victor would be was anyone’s guess. The outcome was quickly demystified with an Arlovski knee crashing flat into Browne’s face. Valiantly, “Hapa” continued to battle back with stiff legs and shoulder punches. With a newfound sense of wits about him, Arlovski blasted Browne one final time with an uppercut-straight right combo that forced his overwhelmed foe to turtle up against the fence.
Referee Mark Smith was forced to stop the fight at 4:41 seconds -- almost exactly four minutes after the first exchange. It was back-and-forth bravado and gritty resilience for four fifths of a round, a novel of pugilistic heart on display in a flipbook. In a fight that was more or less 240 seconds long, it still contained a feeling of episodic largeness; and beyond the action itself, as brilliant and bewildering as it was, it shook the heavyweight waters with narrative ripples, sending Browne back to the drawing board and announcing the arrival of a new, old contender in the resurgence of Arlovski.
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