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Travis Browne: Beard, Brains & Brawn

"I feel like I'm bigger, stronger, faster than I have ever been before and I haven't even touched my potential yet." - Travis Browne

iUFC heavyweight Travis BrowneFear the beard!

Giving credit where credit is due, UFC heavyweight Travis Browne’s physical strength, mixed with his mental awareness of knowing what technique to throw and when, led to his Knockout of the Night of Alistair Overeem in August, but it was the lumberjack beard “Hapa” was sporting that willed its owner through those perilous opening few minutes in the co-main event at UFC Fight Night.

“The beard has its own power,” reveals Browne. “That night it helped me recover, get back to my feet, and knock [Alistair Overeem] out, for sure.”

Diverse Striking

What began as a $500 bet with his cousin in April became Browne’s possible saving grace in a bout where it appeared all hope was lost. “You never go in there saying, ‘I'm going to get my butt kicked for the first three minutes, so let's game plan around that’,” says Browne, who ate several devastating knees to the body and a dozen or so punches from the Dutch kickboxer before turning the tables on Overeem to snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat. “During the fight, you just have to go with the flow. All I was thinking about was getting my wind back and soon as I did, I started mounting a game plan and I knocked him out.” > Watch: Browne KO Overeem

Shades of Anderson Silva’s foot to Vitor Belfort’s face, the move that Browne used to drop the hulking Overeem was a mysterious snapping front kick, which caught “The Reem” under the jaw with Browne’s toes. The pre-fight tale of the tape measures the reach of the fighter’s arms, but it fails to mention the length of the 6’7” Browne’s tree trunk legs that clearly surprised Overeem with their uppercut-like trajectory as it knifed into his chin between his wide boxing guard. It’s a very interesting kick he has been working on for the past year that can punish the body, chest, or the head and really shows how diverse Browne’s striking skill set has become.

“We saw that he was susceptible to a lot of things coming up at him,” explains Browne. “The way his defense is and the way he fights, those techniques were really effective against him in the past, so that was something we trained for. That kick was part of it. The first one I threw, it landed hard and I saw his face change after that. Once it changed then I knew that was going to be the key to beating him. It's not like a push-kick, it's more of a snap kick. You're going to jam your toes and hurt those little puppies, but it is worth it during the fight. It is a very off-speed kind of kick. It's not a typical push kick or a flip kick, it does some damage. It can knock the wind out of people and knock people out too, if you know how to throw it right. It's a technique that takes time to understand your distance and timing on it, but it is definitely worth it once you get it.”

Past Mistakes

The 31-year-old father of two boys from Hawaii had his best year yet inside the Octagon in 2013 and “Hapa” still has one more scrap left with title shot implications written all over it. What’s truly inspiring about the 15-1-1 Browne’s back-to-back Knockout of the Night finishes over Overeem and Gabriel Gonzaga is they’re following the first loss of Browne’s career in the main event at UFC on FX in October of 2012 to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. “People say you change after your first loss and I learned so much from that loss and I applied it with each fight after it,” tells Browne.

Actually, it’s not simply the loss that helped him grow as a fighter, but all of Browne’s Octagon appearances have morphed the powerful heavyweight from unknown to top contender since 2010. Heading into his ninth trip to the UFC’s eight-sided cage, Browne is candid about how each win, draw, and loss have affected him in his young career and how they are molding him into a force that very well could battle for the belt sometime next year. > Watch: Travis Browne's Signature Moves 

“When I first got signed to the UFC to fight James McSweeney, part of me felt like the guys in [The Ultimate Fighter] house fighting to get into the UFC,” remembers Browne. “I beat him and I had a good Summer. I enjoyed myself, maybe enjoyed myself too much. I fought Cheick Kongo andBrowne front kicks Overeem that was the fattest I had ever been going into a training camp, I was 272 pounds. I kind of took this opportunity for granted a little bit. I had a s----- fight against Kongo. The UFC wasn't too happy with me and I took that kind of personally, so when they put me on ice for seven months - it really sent me a message: you better get yourself together or else. I go out and fight Stefan Struve and I knock him out pretty good. The same thing happened, where I felt good about myself and I fight a guy in Rob Broughton that I felt I should have handled easily in the first round, but I had a s----- fight with him. It was the same thing; I was put on ice for seven or eight months.”

“I went out there and fought Chad Griggs and I had a great fight,” continues Browne. “I had that motivation and momentum and stuff like this is my time and it's my time to do what I need to do to be successful in this career. I had that mentality going into a fight with Ben Rothwell that I was supposed to fight in August, but eight days before the match the fight got cancelled. I get a call that they want me to main event against 'Bigfoot' in October. The whole 'Bigfoot' thing, I did lose, but I learned so much from that fight. I tore my hamstring and there were variables in that fight that you just can't do anything about. I did learn from it and I took that as motivation. I have continued to have that mindset in these last two fights against Gabriel Gonzaga and Alistair. I still have that mindset. This is my time! I'll have the rest of my life to relax and do whatever I want. Right now, this is my time and I have to do the work and dedicate myself to it.”

No Better Matchup

Up next for Browne is a collision for title contention at UFC 168 against “The Warmaster,” Josh Barnett. A 17-year, globetrotting veteran of the sport, Barnett returned to the Octagon at UFC 164 where he knocked out fellow former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. The 33-6 protege of living legend Erik Paulson, Barnett has been easily one of the top MMA big men his entire career, with no evidence of slowing down or his danger to opponents diminishing. With 41 finishes between Browne and Barnett, this epic tangle has the potential to net Knockout, Submission, and/or Fight of the Night.  

“I think there is no better matchup in the UFC right now than him,” asserts Browne. “He's a veteran of the sport, he's got a great ground game and good striking. He's a competitor and he comes to fight. It's something that I look forward to. I don't like to shy away from competition. I embrace it. I go after it. I love those hard fights. There's nothing worse than being in the cage with someone who just gives up. I've put in too much time to get into this cage, then to have someone give up like that and curl up and tap out just because I'm punching you a little bit. I want someone to fight back and bring the fight. We're going to test each other to see who has the biggest heart and who goes the furthest. That's the fight I'm looking forward to. That's the fight I'm coming out to prove I'm just as tough as you, if not tougher. I have the mentality and skill set to back it up.” > Watch: Travis Browne in the Move of the Week

In preparation for Barnett, Browne is busy training as a member of arguably the best fight team in the world at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Led by the gym’s namesake and head coach Greg Jackson, Browne works his standup with highly regarded striking coach Mike Winkeljohn as well as grappling aces Ricky Lundell and Neil Melanson. Team Jackson is widely known for its litany of top ranked UFC fighters, which Browne trains with regularly, as well as up-and-coming talents like heavyweights Cody East, Anthony Hamilton, and the UFC’s Shawn “The Savage” Jordan.  

Browne finishes Gonzaga“I have a decent base in the ground game, but I like to stand up and fight,” divulges Browne. “I don't want to just roll around with people. I haven't shown too much of my ground game, but I'm very comfortable there. I'm always trying to implement new striking techniques and ground techniques. I'm on the ground everyday, learning stuff, working on stuff, working on technique, and getting used to that grind. Some of the top guys in this division are grinders. That's exactly what Barnett is, a grinder. He's going to try and grind you against the cage and beat you up. That's something I have been training for for a while.”

This Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada, heavyweights will war as Browne targets “The Warmaster” for destruction. “I feel like I'm bigger, stronger, faster than I have ever been before and I haven't even touched my potential yet,” declares Browne, whose skills are sharp and beard is brushed for a showdown, which will get him one giant leap closer to the gold. “I'm on that ladder and I'm headed towards the top. Unfortunately, Barnett is in my way, so I'm looking to get through him and do it in convincing fashion.”