It's no secret that UFC is in constant need to create new stars, and big Hawaiian native Travis Browne has been handed a ticket to the top by being put in the main event of a heavyweight showdown on FX.
Friday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis, he's either punching it, or his giant-like opponent, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, will punch it back in his face.
Browne, a product of the Greg Jackson camp, is 13-0-1, with his only blemish a draw with Cheick Kongo two years ago in London, England. But even with six first-round stoppages in his last eight fights, he's the first to admit he's been inconsistent. He feels this is the fight to prove he belongs in the elite class as he faces one of the few men to hold a win over Fedor Emelianenko.
It's been talked about how the winner of this fight will join Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Fabricio Werdum and the suspended Alistair Overeem as part of what would be the big six of the division.
"Between me and him, we've created our own level," said Browne, whose first-round knockout over Stefan Struve looks even more impressive this week when it comes to who would be the next guy to join the elite group. "The only thing left ahead of us are the top five."
"I think out of the guys in the top ten, I'm probably the scariest one of them," he said. "My size is a danger, my power and my athletic ability. I think I pose the most danger in that division. Cain, with his grinding ability, he's the one who for me poses the biggest threat."
Browne, who is 6-foot-7, weighed in at 246 pounds on Thursday. He'll be giving up a lot of weight to Silva, who weighed the heavyweight division maximum of 266 pounds, but cut heavily to make that weight. Silva usually fights at closer to 280 to 290 pounds. Browne expressed surprise when he heard his own number, being it was the lightest weight of his career, but feels he's going into the cage at about his expected 250 after eating.
"That's just how my body works out when I'm training and getting into the gym," said Browne. "With all my workouts, I have a hard time keeping weight on. My body wants to keep losing weight so I have to eat more. Right now I'm 250. Once I came in at 255, but I was out of shape."
"I've had a couple of lackluster performances," he said. "Coming into this fight, there's something I need to prove, that the fighter who fought Chad Griggs, Stefan Struve and James McSweeney is the fighter I really am."
Browne grew up in Hawaii until the age of 14, when his father passed away, and he moved to California with his mother. His career started somewhat late, at the age of 26, in early 2009.
The move to MMA stemmed from his wife being pregnant, which forced him to take stock of where he was.
"My wife got pregnant with my first son, and I just wanted to do something for my kid," he said. "I felt I had all this athletic ability and talent, and not doing s--- with it. So I went to get a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, and nine months later, I started getting into MMA."
In Silva, Browne is facing a legitimate test in someone who can match him for size and power, has more experience with top level competition, and also has his own back against the wall. Silva (16-4) has lost two fights in a row for the first time in his career, suffering first round stoppages at the hands of Cormier and Velasquez. The latter saw Silva spill so much blood in the short fight that it looked more like a slasher movie than an MMA event.
When the two had a tense staredown at weigh-ins, Browne didn't appear much taller, and is giving up not just poundage, but significant reach.
Silva has been a name heavyweight dating back more than six years, when he had his first fight on the major international stage for the Japanese Hero's promotion. Silva, a native Brazilian who had been based at the time in England and was unknown past the local British scene, threw around a 300-pound decorated world-class wrestler in Tom Erikson, and finished him in less than three minutes.
He didn't make it to UFC until the Velasquez fight in May, but it wasn't because they didn't see him as top talent. He had lucrative deals in Japan stemming from the Erikson fight, and later with Elite XC, where he was the group's heavyweight champion when they folded. He then went to Japan and Strikeforce, where his size was too much for the legendary Emelianenko, in what is still the single most watched MMA fight ever on Showtime.
"Sometimes it's hard to deal with a guy that size who is right in your face," Browne said, which was the story of Silva's career signature win. "His strength and size, he's somewhat athletic for being 275 to 280 pounds. It's going to be a great fight. His size can also be to his disadvantage. He's a little slower than he could be, and he gasses a little bit in the later rounds."
What's actually been Silva's Achilles heel is getting caught early. It happened with Eric Pele in Silva's big upset loss early in his career, at a time many considered him almost unstoppable. He was nearly finished by usual light heavyweight Mike Kyle, who caught him with a first punch that flattened him, but he managed to recover from it and eventually his size took over. He was dropped by Cormier early and never fully recovered. Velasquez took him off his feet right away, and with his freakish conditioning, continually pounded on him from the top, never letting up and Silva was so bloody he never had a chance to come back.
Browne has essentially had two training camps in a row, but doesn't see that as a negative. He started in June getting ready for a planned battle on Aug. 4 with another large heavyweight, Ben Rothwell. When Rothwell pulled out, this new fight was made.
He said it worked out fine. He took two weeks away from the gym to heal up after Rothwell pulled out, and went right back to camp, starting out in better condition than usual.
"I trained smart and I've got good training partners," he said. "My coaching staff kept an eye on me to keep me from overtraining."