Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva reasserted himself as a heavyweight contender in Minneapolis. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty
When Antonio Silva’s enormous right hand finds its mark, bad things happen to big men.
Silva served up one of his sledgehammers against Travis Browne in the UFC on FX 5 main event on Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, as he floored the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian with a right cross and then wiped out what was left of him with a series of punches on the ground. Beaten for the first time as a professional, Browne met his end 3:27 into round one.
Talented and massive, Silva has flirted with stardom for years, through exhilarating highs, like his second-round stoppage against the incomparable Fedor Emelianenko, and disappointing lows, like the bloody beatdown he absorbed from Cain Velasquez in his UFC debut a little more than four months ago. If nothing else, the decisive victory over Browne stems the negative tide that remained from consecutive losses to Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, all while solidifying Silva’s place in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
In the still-shallow pool at 265 pounds, “Bigfoot” could advance quickly with another quality win or two. Former International Fight League champion Roy Nelson will butt heads with Shane Carwin at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale on Dec. 1 in Las Vegas, and the victor could provide Silva with the opportunity he desires.
On the shelf since June 2011, the twice-beaten Carwin carries with him horrendous punching power and a resume that includes knockouts against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir and onetime heavyweight title contender Gabriel Gonzaga. Nelson, meanwhile, remains one of the most durable and skilled heavyweights in the sport despite his portly and often criticized physique. The 36-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s list of victims includes 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic and towering Dutchman Stefan Struve.
In the wake of UFC on FX 5 “Browne vs. Bigfoot,” here are five other matchups that need to be made:
Jake Ellenberger vs. Jon Fitch-Erick Silva winner: Ellenberger steadied himself after a disappointing technical knockout loss to Martin Kampmann at “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale in June, as he captured a unanimous verdict from former IFL welterweight champion Jay Hieron. Still only 27, Ellenberger has recorded seven wins in his last eight appearances and remains a fixture in the Top 10 at 170 pounds. Fitch, the perennial contender, and Silva, the fast-rising Brazilian, will do battle at UFC 153 on Oct. 13.
John Dodson vs. Demetrious Johnson: Dodson locked down his place as the No. 1 contender at 125 pounds with his second-round technical knockout against Brazilian grappler Jussier da Silva. “The Magician” has won his past five bouts, three of them inside the Octagon. A brilliant blend of speed and power, Dodson appears to have come into his own at age 28. Johnson has become the frontman for the flyweight division, capturing UFC gold in a riveting five-round duel with Team Alpha Male’s Joseph Benavidez at UFC 152 on Sept. 22.
Travis Browne vs. Stipe Miocic: As sometimes happens with inexperienced fighters, Browne stubbed his toe when his name hit the marquee. In his first UFC main event, the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts export succumbed to first-round punches from “Bigfoot” Silva. The manner in which he reacts to his first professional defeat could reveal a great deal about his future in the heavyweight division. Physical talent may not be in question, but adversity has been known to shrink the mighty. Miocic finds himself in a similar position. He entered his UFC on Fuel TV 5 headliner with Stefan Struve as an unbeaten and highly regarded prospect; he left it on the wrong side of a second-round technical knockout.
Jay Hieron vs. Mike Swick-Matt Brown loser: Hieron waited more than seven years to return to the Octagon, only to be met in the cage by Ellenberger and a unanimous decision defeat. Still, “The Thoroughbred” figures to stick around this time. The Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts product adds experience and depth -- valuable commodities with young welterweights like Rory MacDonald and Erick Silva on the rise -- to the 170-pound division. The oft-injured Swick and the entertaining but inconsistent Brown will tangle on Dec. 8 at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle. Swick returned from a two-and-a-half-year absence in August, knocking out “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9 finalist DaMarques Johnson. Brown has rattled off three straight wins, two of them finishes.
Mike Pierce vs. John Hathaway: Pierce may be the most underrated welterweight in the business. The 32-year-old Sports Lab export improved his UFC mark to 7-3 with a stirring come-from-behind knockout victory over Aaron Simpson. A rugged wrestler and savage clinch fighter, Pierce would undoubtedly rank among the Top 10 at 170 pounds were it not for two disputed split decisions against Johny Hendricks at UFC 133 and Josh Koscheck at UFC 143. Hathaway has rebounded nicely from his first setback as a professional -- a unanimous decision loss to Mike Pyle in Oct. 2010 -- as he has pieced together a tidy three-fight winning streak.