HeavyweightsFabricio Werdum (20-6-1) vs. Travis Browne (18-4-1)
THE MATCHUP: Werdum lost his title in downright embarrassing fashion. Running chin-first into a counter behind a salvo of sloppy arm punches, it was as careless as it was uncharacteristic. Whatever compelled Werdum to hand Stipe Miocic his title at UFC 198, it is unlikely to happen again -- at least not until the Brazilian veteran has had a chance to rebuild his ego.
If that sort of behavior does not recur, then Browne is in for an uncomfortable night. The first time he and Werdum fought, Browne was a 2-to-1 favorite. It seems improbable now, but Browne was riding a three-fight winning streak, having knocked out Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett and Gabriel Gonzaga, all in the first round. What separated those men from Werdum, however, was the fact that “Vai Cavalo” simply did not care. Browne was used to intimidating smaller opponents with his towering frame and menacing aspect, and the power in his strikes was enough of a fallback when that did not work. However, Werdum was neither concerned with Browne’s power nor cowed by his size.
In addition to that fearlessness, Werdum was simply the better, smarter fighter. He is no defensive genius, but neither is Browne, and Werdum has the kickboxing savvy to keep his opponent on the back foot. Werdum used his crisp jab to keep Browne tentative, softened him up with thudding body shots and dragged him to the floor, evading Browne’s notorious elbows by using the head-inside single as his primary mode of attack.
Browne’s game was built of disparate pieces then. In any single moment, he could come up with a method of attack or defense, but he began to run out of ideas fairly quickly and could not adjust when Werdum began anticipating his planned reactions. Then he began to tire, and the rest of the fight was downhill for “Hapa.” Browne has since left Jackson-Wink MMA to train with Edmond Tarverdyan at the Glendale Fighting Club, and the boxing-centric game he has built there is neither particularly better nor worse than the oddball kickboxing he used under Greg Jackson. He remains powerful and dynamic but ultimately limited.
THE ODDS: Werdum (-210), Browne (+180)
THE PICK: There are two reasons to suspect that this fight might end up differently than the first one. First, Werdum could be done. His knockout loss to Miocic was brutal and sudden, and it came on the heels of a back-and-forth war with former champion Cain Velasquez. Second, Browne could simply find an opening and knock out Werdum. Both scenarios are possible, but neither is likely. The likeliest outcome is that Werdum exchanges with Browne in round one, pinpoints his weaknesses and presses them until the big man breaks, just like last time. The pick is Werdum by unanimous decision.
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