Taking a look at a potential heavyweight superstar
Not that long ago, the UFC heavyweight division looked better than it had in years, maybe ever. While some of the talent that had us all praising the big boy ranks remains, others have fallen off.
Champion Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos continue to shine atop the division, while Frank Mir and Roy Nelson remain solid threats in the upper tier. But Brock Lesnar and his allergy to getting punched in the face has been exposed, Shane Carwin got beaten to a pulp at UFC 131, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of “Minotauro” Nogueira inside the Octagon since Velasquez laid him out in February 2010.
The division is in a state of flux, which seems like a perfect time for the top young talent in the division to step up.
Rated Next: Travis Browne (11-0-1)
Brendan Schaub may want to argue otherwise, but Browne is my choice as the top prospect in the UFC heavyweight ranks.
Admittedly, if not for Cheick Kongo’s penchant for grabbing shorts, Browne’s unblemished record would sport a loss instead of a draw, but that doesn’t change anything.
For starters, everyone loses at one point or another; surely Browne doesn’t expect to climb to the top of the heap without hitting a few rough patches along the way. Additionally, the Hawaiian heavyweight followed up his uneven performance against Kongo in impressive fashion at UFC 130, showing what kind of resolve – and potential – he has.
Browne laid out Stefan Struve with a perfectly timed Superman punch on the last Saturday in May, earning himself the UFC 130 Knockout of the Night bonus and his place on this list. He’d been in the running up to that point, but adding a highlight reel knockout over another emerging talent like Struve cemented his standing, and put him on everyone’s radar.
There is plenty to like about Browne in addition to his most recent performance as we look to the future.
Physically, the 29-year-old is an imposing figure, standing 6’7″ and hitting the scale in the 250 pound range. He moves pretty well for his size, and though he gave up inches to Struve, there aren’t many heavyweights in the UFC who are going to match him inch-for-inch, pound-for-pound. Some might be bigger in terms of mass, but few, if any, possess the size/stature combination Browne brings to the table.
The fact that he trains with the Alliance MMA team plays into his selection here as well. With all the “super camps” popping up in this sport, the Chula Vista, California-based outfit doesn’t get enough press considering the success they’ve had of late.
Home to UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, light heavyweight prospect Alexander Gustafsson and contender Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, and heavyweight hard-head Joey Beltran, the Alliance team has been cranking out wins without much fanfare. Their lack of exposure will change as Cruz continues to rise in popularity and prominence atop the bantamweight division, and upstarts like Gustafsson and Davis continue to do their thing as well. Browne factors into that increase as well.
In addition to the training and development he gets alongside his Alliance teammates from coach Eric Del Fierro and others, Browne also develops his jiu-jitsu under the watchful eye of Master Lloyd Irvin. Heavyweight knockout artists with solid jiu-jitsu don’t come around all that often, so you have to keep an eye on them when they do.
His win over Struve opened a lot of eyes, and probably opened the door to increased opportunities as well. After stewing on his draw with Kongo for seven months before taking it out on Struve in May, Browne’s return to the cage has already been scheduled; he’ll meet Briton Rob Broughton at UFC 135 in September.
TUF 10 runner-up Schaub and UFC 131 winner Dave “Pee-Wee” Herman have both show promise as well, though neither has delivered as solid a performance as Browne did last month.
The fact that there are a plethora of emerging heavyweights to choose from is encouraging, from both a fan and organizational perspective.
Heading that list is a guy they call “Hapa.”