"I keep referring to Chad Griggs as a pit bull because that’s the way that he fights, and I think I have to go out there and match that intensity. I can’t hold back." - Travis Browne
“I wasn’t going to put it out there,” he says through the laughter, “but I’ll extend the challenge: I have my cute little beard-thing going, and he has his muttonchops, so I want to put out the challenge that whoever loses shaves their facial hair off for a month.
“I’ve been putting as much into my beard as he has his muttonchops. I’ve gone through stages,” continues the affable heavyweight. “If you look back at all my different fights, I did the chinstrap, and I tried to get all fancy and did like a fade. If he’s game, we can set something up. Maybe the other person will videotape the loser shaving it off our something.”
The 29-year-old Hawaiian is excited and talkative, happy to be closing in on his return to the Octagon, ready to replace the memory of his last appearance with something more representative of his robust talents.
“It was a dominant performance over Rob Broughton,” says Browne of his UFC 135 battle with the British heavyweight last September. “I mean, it was 30-27, and there was no time that I was ever in trouble — so it worked, but it wasn’t the most fun or exciting fight that anyone has ever seen.
“That being said, I’ve taken a lot from that fight, and learned what I need to do in my next fight in order to be successful. Not only successful, but try and be spectacular in winning. Sometimes you can be successful, but feel like you lost, and that’s what happened with Rob Broughton.
“I was expecting so much out of myself. I put so much pressure on myself, we were trying new things, and I was thinking a little bit too much instead of just reacting like I normally would. There was a lot that went into it, but we learned a lot, and corrected a lot of mistakes, and we’re going to keep pushing, and keep moving forward.”
Browne’s fight against Broughton was his first since relocating his training camp to Albuquerque, New Mexico to work with coaches Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, and the team of talent assembled at their gym.
After earning Knockout of the Night honors for his Superman punch finish of Stefan Struve at UFC 130, the unbeaten rising star was expected to run through Broughton in Denver. Instead, he never really found his rhythm.
The first four fights of his UFC career have produced a 3-0-1 record, but it has been an admittedly up-and-down run according to Browne. That’s why he’s had April 21 circled on his calendar for a couple of months now, when he’ll get to return to the Octagon and prove to everyone that he deserves to be considered amongst the best of the UFC’s suddenly deep heavyweight division.
“People are saying that I’ve had kind of a rollercoaster between finishing (James) McSweeney in four minutes, going to a decision and getting a draw with (Cheick) Kongo, then having that nasty knockout against Struve, and then having like a lackluster performance against Rob Broughton.
“I think this is the fight that is really going to make people either believe in me or push me aside. This is a fight where I have to come out and prove myself — that I do belong in the UFC, that this is my home, and I need to show people that.
“Circumstances are a little bit different for this camp,” adds Browne, noting that there were communication issues between he and his new coaches last time around that have since been rectified. “I’ve learned what kind of fighter I’m going to be, and I’m excited to see how I progress now that Coach Jackson has got a hold of me, and is going to start molding me into the fighter I’m going to be.”
Coming off of his highlight reel victory over Struve last spring, Browne was tabbed by many as “The Next Big Thing” in the heavyweight division. Because of the lack of depth within the weight class, his climb up the ranks appeared to be headed towards the fast track prior to his sub-par performance against Broughton in the thin air of Denver, Colorado.
Seven months later, the heavyweight ranks have been restocked with former Strikeforce competitors, and Browne couldn’t be happier.
“It feels like I retired and now I’m on my way back,” he jokes about the time it has taken for him to make his way back into the Octagon. “I’m actually glad that they’re bringing over the guys from Strikeforce — that way the heavyweights can have more fights. I think that’s one reason why it took seven months for me to get a fight: there just wasn’t the right guy to line up.
“I think it opens everything up; it gives (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva a lot more to work with. It just makes for more exciting fights for the fans as well. We have (Alistair) Overeem and (Fabricio) Werdum. There’s going to be (Daniel) Cormier and (Josh) Barnett, and there’s (Antonio) Silva, and that guy Lavar Johnson. All those guys coming over just makes for a lot more interesting matchups.”
Included in that collection of transplanted heavyweight challengers is the man he’ll face at UFC 145, Chad Griggs.
Less than two years ago, the 33-year-old IFL veteran was unknown to all but the most ardent MMA fans before he was brought in by Strikeforce to face former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley in a fight few expected him to win.
After outlasting an exhausted Lashley, Griggs scored a pair of first round wins over prospect Gian Villante and veteran Valentjin Overeem to push his record to 3-0 under the Strikeforce banner, and 11-1 overall. His straightforward, aggressive approach and outstanding muttonchops have made him a fan favorite, while his unexpected three-fight winning streak in Strikeforce (he’s won six straight overall) has made him a member of the UFC heavyweight ranks.
In addition to being able to put the aforementioned facial hair wager on the table heading into their meeting on April 21, Browne also welcomes the pairing with Griggs as an opportunity to put what he’s been practicing with Jackson and company in Albuquerque to use inside the cage.
“A fight with Chad Griggs is actually really good because it puts me on track to becoming the fighter that I’m going to be,” discloses the six-foot-seven-inch tall heavyweight, who has amassed nine of his 12 wins by way of knockout. “Our game plan for Chad is the same way that I’m going to be fighting when I’m going for the title, so it’s exciting to see and be a part of. It’s a work in progress, and I have some of the best coaches in the business working on it.
“The thing about Chad is that he’s unpredictable,” asserts Browne. “He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he gets in the cage. All he knows is that he’s going to come forward and try to hit you, and that’s what I admire about him: he fights off of instinct, and he comes out and just tries to get it done.
“For us, that’s great because it gives me a chance to really work everything that I’ve been learning. It’s not like we know he’s going to jab, overhand, and then shoot in for a double or he’s just going to try and press me into the cage or he’s just going to try and standing the middle and just bang it out with me. We don’t know what Chad’s going to do. He could try to back me into the cage. He could try to slug it out, or he could shoot in for a double; who knows? And that’s something we look forward to. It’s exciting for both Chad and I as fighters to have that, and it’s exciting for me in terms of my development as a fighter.”
More than anything else, Browne is looking forward to returning to the aggressive form he displayed throughout his career prior to the fight with Broughton last September.
“My last fight, I was trying to be a little more careful, and I fought not to lose,” he admits. “I didn’t really understand that when (UFC president) Dana White or these other people would say, `You need to fight to win; you can’t fight to not lose.’ I didn’t understand that until my last fight. Looking back at that fight, I was fighting to not lose, so if I fight that same fight against Chad Griggs, I’m losing. I can’t just sit back and let him dictate what goes out, because he’s way more dangerous than Rob Broughton will ever be.
“I keep referring to Chad Griggs as a pit bull because that’s the way that he fights, and I think I have to go out there and match that intensity. I can’t hold back. I can’t be worried about `oh, I’m going to try and do too much and get caught’ because I tell you what: everybody gets caught.
“Sooner or later, you get caught,” Browne adds with a laugh. “If it’s Chad Griggs or if it’s in the championship fight, I don’t give a crap. I’m going to go out there, fight my hardest, and bring the fight to him the same way he’s going to try and bring the fight to me.”
Though he’s 12-0-1 thus far and unbeaten in four trips to the Octagon, Browne expects this fight to be the one where he really establishes himself as a threat in the heavyweight division, and he predicts that the judges’ scorecards won’t be needed.
“This is definitely going to be one of my breakout fights. I heard him say in an interview that somebody is going to be bleeding, and I welcome that. We each have nine knockouts, and we want to put somebody to sleep.
“It’s not going to the judges.”