Travis Browne has yet to lose in 14 professional appearances. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Travis Browne does not consider himself particularly memorable.
As the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Hawaiian with the nearly flawless record reflects on his mixed martial arts career to date, he does not see anything that stands out. Sure, there is the Superman-punch knockout of Stefan Struve that led virtually everyone’s UFC 130 highlight reel, but that was nearly a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, Browne labored through an oxygen-starved decision victory over British plugger Rob Broughton at UFC 135 and submitted Strikeforce veteran Chad Griggs -- who has since dropped to light heavyweight -- in less than three minutes at UFC 145.
Solid victories to be sure, but neither really gets the blood pumping. If that seems like a harsh view of Browne’s accomplishments to date, you are probably right, especially considering the fact that the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative did not tackle MMA full-time until he was 25 years old; he is now 30. However, it is also important to remember that, first and foremost, this is Browne’s assessment of himself.
“Say the UFC were to cut me right now,” Browne told Sherdog.com. “I would be one of those guys that would be forgotten about. I haven’t made my place in the UFC yet, and that’s something I will continue to have to prove. Look at the stuff that even Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar have done. They’re getting mentioned less and less every year. Shane’s been out for a long time; he’s just starting to come back being a head coach on [‘The Ultimate Fighter’]. For a long time, I even forgot he was in the UFC, and he’s done some great things. He fought for a title [and] was almost the first guy to take Brock’s belt. I think I’m still working toward that.”
“Hapa” can take a giant step -- literally -- toward mainstream recognition when he takes on the massive Antonio Silva in the UFC on FX 5 main event on Friday in Minneapolis. “Bigfoot,” thanks to his enormous frame and enlarged features, is the type of guy people remember, even if the reasons are not always ideal.
The Brazilian ruined a lot of hypothetical brackets when he stunned Fedor Emelianenko in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix quarterfinals in 2011. It has been a bumpy ride for Silva since he earned that signature victory. First, he was knocked out by Daniel Cormier in the tournament’s semifinals in what was considered to be an upset at the time. Silva was then unceremoniously welcomed to the UFC by Cain Velasquez in a bloody beating that seemed better suited to the set of a B-level horror flick than the Octagon.
Still, it is clear that whether Silva has succeeded or failed as of late, he has done so in spectacular fashion. People tend to remember that, which is why Browne’s team is looking at the bout as a potential springboard for the rest of his career.
“I think [Browne] is a Top 10 guy in the division [already],” said Mike Winkeljohn, Browne’s striking coach at Jackson’s MMA. “I think he’s actually a sleeper in the division. We get through ‘Bigfoot’ here, and people are gonna turn their heads and notice. He’ll be challenging for the top soon.”
All in all, it is pretty heady stuff for a guy who not all that long ago was entertaining offers to play professional basketball overseas. Instead of shooting for takedowns in the Octagon, Browne could very well have been shooting jump hooks in Turkey, Spain or some other remote location. During his time at Palomar Community College in California, however, Browne’s passion for basketball began to wane.
“It was something that I played my entire life, so when I got into college, it was just like, ‘Here we go, another season,’” he said. “If I had that true motivation, I would have been able to make it pretty far. I have the heart, motivation and athletic ability to push myself to that next level, but I just didn’t do it. You live and you learn. There’s always shoulda-woulda-coulda situations.”
Although Browne’s basketball career was drawing to a close, his competitive fire was as strong as ever. When a friend introduced him to jiu-jitsu approximately five years ago, Browne fell in love almost immediately. He quickly transitioned to MMA, making short work of foes in amateur and early professional bouts.
“When my original manager first took me on, he saw how I was doing in the gym,” Browne said. “He said, ‘If you take this serious, we’re gonna be pushed fast. Just be prepared for it.’ In a year, I had nine or 10 fights, and I was in the UFC within a year of being a pro.”
Browne has not completely left his traditional athletic background in the rearview mirror, however. Although he is tall for a professional fighter, at 6-foot-7, Browne needed a versatile game to survive as a basketball player at the collegiate level. That often entailed manning the small forward position, where Browne was something of a triple threat, with the ability to shoot, post up or drive to the basket with equal proficiency. That skillset, which Browne likens to a lesser version of Kevin Garnett, has given the fighter some useful tools in the Octagon. Browne believes basketball honed his footwork, movement and feints, giving him an advantage against opponents of a similar size. So far, it has been hard to argue with the results.
“It’s easy for me to incorporate new footwork with him, [as well as] knowing how to strike and be in the right place to avoid damage,” Winkeljohn said. “He’s very explosive. He’s 6-7, and he’s a guy that can leap out of the Octagon if he wants to. He gets more dangerous every fight.”
At a time when the world’s largest MMA promotion is starved for talented big men, does it seem fair that Browne’s ascent through the division appears to have slowed, even without a loss on his resume? According to Browne, he will remain in heavyweight purgatory until he becomes more consistent.
“Yeah, it’s [fair]; it’s where I’m at. In life, s--- isn’t fair. I think that I have some great performances out there, and I have some lackluster performances. The lackluster performances are what’s keeping me at that level,” Browne said. “People don’t know what to think about me yet, so I’m not at the forefront. If I would’ve come out and knocked out Cheick Kongo, if I would’ve come out and dominated Rob Broughton like I should have, it would be a different story. I would be the second coming. Because of those lackluster performances, I’m in that area.”
During his current camp, Browne has taken to watching footage of the Broughton fight when he needs incentive to run sprints in the New Mexico desert. He also thinks about his two boys, Kaleo and Keawe, waiting for him back home on the island.
“My motivation these days is bigger than just myself and doing well for myself. It involves my kids a lot. When I’m going through a hard time with training, I think about my kids and why I’m doing it. They’re back in Hawaii right now,” he said. “I’m glad that’s something they can do because I’m working my butt off.”
Winkeljohn has noticed the progression, as well.
“He’s in much, much better shape now than he was back [before UFC 135],” the trainer said. “He understands what it takes; that taught him a lesson.”
While heavyweight has been one of the UFC’s most oft-criticized divisions in recent years for its lack of depth, perceptions appear to be changing. The all-heavyweight main card at UFC 146 triggered a resurgence of sorts for the weight class, and the promotion appears to be attempting to capitalize by placing some of its rising big men in prominent positions. Struve and Stipe Miocic got their time in the limelight as UFC on Fuel TV 5 co-headliners on Sept. 29. Now, the spotlight will be on Browne and Silva. As a man who is still trying to establish a secure foothold with the company, the significance of the moment is not lost on Browne.
“It’s a big deal. The way they have this set up now, their top prospects are gonna come in and they’re gonna have them start headlining these smaller shows and get them ready for the Fox shows and pay-per-view shows,” Browne said. “That way more people know about us, and it just feeds into the whole [idea of] getting more people to rally behind a fighter. Getting that fighter’s name out, if somebody connects with them in a certain way, it just builds a bigger and better fan base for that fighter and the UFC.”
Browne will be the first one to tell you he has not yet made a name for himself. However, that opportunity might have finally arrived.