I have to admit, Travis Browne’s rise to title contention has surprised me quite a bit. For a while I thought of Browne as the fighter who was out-performed by Cheick Kongo and looked sloppy in wins over opponents like Rob Broughton. It didn’t help that Browne was knocked out by Antonio Silva in a fight that seemed to confirm Browne as simply a mid-tier UFC heavyweight (although if I remember correctly, I may have picked Browne to win that one).
Now, not only is Browne in a top contender’s fight, he’s in a fight that looks like it could be a really good style match for him. Browne’s opponent is Fabricio Werdum, a fighter known for world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but also a fighter who’s developed into a very good all-around mixed martial artist. The problem is this: can Werdum successfully take Browne to the ground? If he doesn’t, can he survive five rounds without being knocked out?
The answer to the first question is “probably not.” Despite being a relatively tall and light heavyweight (6’7″, 230 pounds), Browne’s takedown defense has been a perfect 8-for-8 in the UFC so far. I don’t think Browne’s takedown defense would remain perfect against Cain Velasquez, but he’s not fighting Velasquez, he’s fighting Werdum. And Werdum’s takedown offense has been underwhelming as he’s landed just 34 percent of his takedown attempts overall.
I’m sure a lot of people remember Werdum repeatedly failing to take down Alistair Overeem in their Strikeforce match. Werdum resorted to begging Overeem to enter his guard, a request Overeem wisely refused to accept. I’m not sure if Browne’s ability to stuff takedowns will be as good as Overeem’s in the long run, but I’m willing to bet that he can keep his back off the canvas in this one.
The thing about Werdum’s performance against Overeem is that he quietly landed more strikes in the fight than Overeem did. I’m not sure if it was because Overeem had no respect for Werdum’s power, or if Werdum was simply good at landing straight punches, but Werdum landed 43 significant strikes to Overeem’s 32 in the fight. In his last three matches since returning to the UFC, Werdum has landed 154 significant strikes and his opponents have landed 43. It’s clear that Werdum has some serious striking abilities.
Meanwhile, Browne has absorbed more strikes than he’s landed in the UFC, has absorbed an above-average rate of 3.10 significant strikes per minute, and has defended strikes at a very poor 47 percent rate. He’s very vulnerable to being hit, as shown in his improbable comeback win against Overeem and knockout loss to “Bigfoot.”
So it might sound as if I’m setting up an upset pick. I can’t do it. The reason is that this fight is scheduled for five rounds in the heavyweight division, where decisions are not the norm. Browne in particular has shown big power throughout his career. He’s won by TKO in five out of nine UFC fights and 12 out of 18 MMA fights overall. He’s landed four knockdowns in 150 significant strikes, for a very low ratio of 37.5 strikes per knockdown. His elbows have been a particularly devastating weapon, something Werdum will have to be mindful of if he attempts a takedown.
I can’t see Werdum succeeding in taking Browne down more than once. I also don’t think Werdum can strike with Browne for five rounds without being knocked out. It’s certainly possible – after all, Cheick Kongo went three rounds with Browne and his chin is anything but sturdy – but if we’re talking about a heavyweight fight, I have to expect a finish. Browne is simply the more likely fighter to deliver the finish in this particular matchup.
Pick: Travis Browne by KO