Travis Browne has every intention of becoming the UFC heavyweight champion.
Where the rangy Hawaiian's immense potential once garnered the prospect label, he's since traded in that particular tag for contender status. In his eight showings under the UFC banner, he's found victory in six of them, including a recent stretch where he's won five of his last six.
His only setback over this run—and the only loss of his professional career—came at the hands of Antonio Silva, when Brown blew his hamstring out in the opening minutes.
"Hapa" rebounded from the loss by picking up back-to-back wins in two of the most remarkable performances of his career. The 30-year-old Oahu native earned "Knockout of the Night" honors when he drubbed Gabriel Gonzaga with a brutal display of elbows in the first round at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in April, but he faced a monster of a much different variety in his next outing at UFC Fight Night 27 in Boston.
The prospect-turned-contender squared off with heavyweight juggernaut Alistair Overeem in the UFC's return to Boston in August. By many accounts, Browne was to be the sacrificial lamb on "Reem's" return to the heavyweight title chase. And when the bout got under way, it looked as if that was exactly how things were going to play out.
The former Strikeforce champion hurt Browne in the early going and then pounced on the Jackson's MMA fighter as he looked for the finish. Overeem unloaded a flurry of bombs as Browne shifted into survival mode against the cage, but when the knockout never came for the former K-1 champion, fatigue set in, and Browne turned the tables.
With Overeem slowed and exhausted, Browne battled back with fury and ended the fight with a devastating front-kick knockout.
While scoring a victory over a fighter as highly touted as Overeem is a feather to add to the proverbial cap, Browne found a deeper meaning in the fight. He had come out on the other side of a challenge that few have been able to topple, and he immediately knew he was a better man for it.
"It was a huge win," Browne told Bleacher Report. "Not only knocking him out like that, but weathering the storm and taking what he had to throw out there, then coming back. If you think about it, I beat him in one minute. He was whooping my ass for three minutes. He had me pinned against the cage beating me up. He was kneeing, elbowing and punching me for three straight minutes. Then I got a little bit of space, started implementing my game plan and knocked him out.
"Look at the other opponents that have either quit or got knocked out in when Alistair has put them in that position. It's the top of the list and you can't write a better script than what happened that night. I don't look forward to ever feeling something like that again, but if I have to go through something like that in order to win a fight, I'll do it."
Back-to-back wins in impressive fashion put him on the track to contention, but traffic in the championship tier of the division meant he would have to get another win before a title shot came his way.
Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos were set to settle their trilogy at UFC 166, and Browne waited for the UFC to call with his next challenge. When the offer came to face savvy veteran Josh Barnett at UFC 168, he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity.
"The Warmaster" is a former UFC champion and one of the gamest fighters in the heavyweight division. With a stern test conquered in his last outing and the feeling there is still so much to prove on the road ahead, Browne is looking forward to trading leather with Barnett in Las Vegas on Dec. 28.
"Barnett is a veteran of the game, but at the same time, I've been fighting guys with a lot of experience my entire career," Browne said. "I'm so new to the sport. I have 17 fights and seven or eight of them have been in the UFC—and that has come over a three-and-a-half-year span. No matter who I fight, I'm going to be at a disadvantage in the experience department.
"Alistair Overeem, Cheick Kongo, even Stefan Struve being as young as he is, all have more experience than I do. These guys I'm fighting all have three times as many fights as I do, but I live for that sh**. Just because I'm young in the sport doesn't mean you get to overlook me.
"I think I match up really well with him. I have my length to keep him on the outside, and if he does get on the inside, I have the ability to defend and get out or ability to get out and go on the offensive with my close game or ground game. That's something a lot of people don't realize. I can be offensive too. He can try to push me up against the cage, but what is he going to do once he gets me there? I can implement that kind of game plan as well."
With the current state of the title radar in the heavyweight division, the tilt between Browne and Barnett will carry implications for a future title shot. Champion Cain Velasquez is on the mend for the next several months, and top-ranked contender Fabricio Werdum is currently floating in limbo because of it, but the opportunity for the winner of the heavyweight clash at UFC 168 to make some real ground is there for the taking.
While being in a position to bolster title talk is one that comes with respect, for Browne it's not enough. Whereas he once longed for recognition that he belonged with the best in the division, those flames have been snuffed out, and a much more intense fire now rages.
He is on a mission to become the heavyweight champion of the world, and nothing—not even an impressive victory over a fighter with Barnett's resume—will be enough to satisfy that hunger.
"If you had asked me about respect two years ago, I would have said I was so happy I'm finally getting it," Browne said. "But now I'm in the mindset where I don't give a sh** about that. I'm here to do one thing and that is to go after that belt.
"Until I have that belt, defended that belt and left a legacy with my name and what I've done in that cage, then I'll have time to relax and take in what I've done. Right now, it's time for me to bust my ass, work hard and go out there and do what I know I can. Then I'll have the next 50 or 60 years of my life to enjoy it."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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