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Heavyweights 'Reem & Browne collide
Perhaps it's just an odd piece of timing that Travis Browne has been watching Shark Week and picking up bowhunting as he prepares to fight Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen. He swears it's just coincidence, that all the former tends to do is fill him with fear about letting his kids in the water, and that the latter is just a hobby. But there is some symbolism there, is there not? There is some parallel to hunting apex predators and stalking Overeem in a cage.
Visually, the two make for worthy adversaries. Browne is a giant, 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds; Overeem is thickly muscled at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. Yet it is clearly Browne who must prove something on Saturday night, that he holds the capability to overthrow the rankings and vault past a universally acknowledged contender.
“If I come out with a win on Saturday, you can’t deny me that right,” he told FOX Sports. “That’s all I wanted my whole entire career. I don’t want to talk about it. I want people to not be able to deny me my rights to where I stand.
Travis Browne is coming off a huge knockout win. Can he make it two in a row?Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
“Before this fight I wasn’t put up there with those kinds of guys like Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, so I never really thought about it,” he continued. “You should be ready to fight the champion at any given time but I knew there were plenty of people in front of me more deserving of a shot than I was. After this fight, I’m going to be up there and ready to fight those guys. After Alistair, I’ll be fighting for the same thing.”
His first time trying to jump the line didn’t go so well. When he faced Antonio Silva last October, Browne (14-1-1) injured himself on the first kick he threw, feeling a series of three pops in the back of his left leg, which immediately went unstable. With only one anchor and limited mobility, he became a stationary practice for Silva, who quickly battered him to a first-round technical knockout.
As it turned out, the hamstring was torn, a fair excuse for defeat but a poor tonic for the disappointment that accompanied it.
"I kind of got down and started listening to people around me, blaming it on my injury," he said. "But at the same time, I realized you can't do that. You're using it as a crutch and an excuse. You won't grow if you do that. So I went back to accepting it, dealing with the crap that comes along with the loss and moving on."
Phase one of his comeback was a success, returning six months after his injury to knockout Gabriel Gonzaga in just 71 seconds.
Though Gonzaga was a former No. 1 contender, it was a fight Browne was favored to win. That differs wildly from his upcoming bout with Overeem, a combat sports wonder who has held championships in K-1, Strikeforce and DREAM, and who forged a 12-fight unbeaten streak until getting brazen and being upset by Silva in one of 2013's iconic moments.
The thinking is that Overeem won't make the same mistake in underestimating an opponent, which could make for a long night for Browne, a sizable underdog. But Browne believes he's being underestimated anyway. His loss to Silva, at least in part due to injury, marks the only time he's ever been defeated.
"I've just got to go out there and do what I do," he said. "Everybody in the division has that mystique about them until they lose two or three fights. Overeem is definitely considered one of the best, and I think he is one of the best fighters out there. At the same time, out of the last two years, you've only seen me in the cage minus my 'Bigfoot' loss for maybe four minutes. So there’s a lot of not knowing what’s going on when you step in the cage with me because you don't know what I'm capable of doing. It’s not out there. You don't know what I'm going to do, and I think a lot of people are scared of the unknown."
Could Overeem be one of those people?
"I wouldn't say that he's scared but I think he's going to be very cautious," Browne said.
That is another school of thought on Overeem, that he was knocked out so violently that it could change his fundamental fighting approach. The Overeem of the late 2000s and early '10s was that prototypical predator, an aggressor that attacked his target’s weakness. During his 12-fight win streak, he out-landed opponents by a staggering total of 384-99.
Those streaks and numbers no longer mattered when his last fight became personal and Silva refused to relent. Browne isn’t quite sure how Overeem will respond to the first adversity he’s faced in years. In a recent interview with UFC Tonight, the Dutch star showed some rarely seen humility about the situation, admitting he overlooked the Brazilian giant and was "knocked out cold" as a result.
Given his lengthy resume in combat sports, it wasn't a new experience for him, and because of it Browne doesn't necessarily think the loss makes him more susceptible to a repeat performance.
"He's a seasoned guy," he said. "I think he's going to bounce back and use that loss to push him and give him what he needs to get through training and to the fight."
It's also true that aside from a handful of matchups, Overeem wasn't often faced with the most dangerous of opponents. Silva may always be limited in his offensive attacks, but he's always packed a wallop. Browne, too, has 10 knockouts among his 14 wins.
And then there's the elephant in the room, the fact that Overeem's last fight was his first since failing a drug test for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. In the first bout where he was faced with multiple drug tests, he was knocked out.
"That's kind of an advantage on my side," Browne said. "There’s a reason they felt they needed to take that stuff and use some kind of performance-enhancing whatever. To me that shows mentally that you’re weaker than most."
Some fights are won and lost based upon mental preparation or lack thereof. While Overeem is still looking to create his first positive MMA moment after his de-facto suspension and knockout loss, Browne has put his defeat and freak injury in the past. He’s coming in on the high of a quick knockout, hungering to advance a career filled promise. Like a shark, he’s circling, waiting, ready for the hunt.