Travis Browne embarking upon ‘stepping stone’ territory

Travis Brown is seen before he fights Alistair Overeem in their UFC on Fox Sports 1 mixed martial arts heavyweight bout in Boston, Saturday, August 17,2013. Browne won via first round TKO. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

We don’t need to dig too far into the past to find a time when Travis Browne was seen as the future. Somewhat of a revolutionary fighter seemingly poised to bring a renaissance period to the UFC’s heavyweight division, Browne was unlike any fighter we’d seen inside the Octagon.

Standing 6-foot-7 and hovering around 240 pounds, “Hapa” was changing the game with the sort of footwork that was traditionally excluded from the heavyweight ranks. The size of a giant but the fluidity of a man several weight classes lower, Browne was a tremendous talent. He was pegged by many as a future champion.

His first UFC loss came against Antonio Silva. Suffering a strained hamstring early in the opening round, Browne was a sitting duck against “Bigfoot”; he was stopped at the 3:27 mark.

The first defeat of his UFC career understandably came with a bit of an asterisk; he was clearly hampered by an injury to his leg he caused all on his own. The three-fight winning streak (all first-round KOs) that followed reverberated what grain of salt belonged to that defeat to Silva. Browne was still as good as we thought he was.

Then came the loss to Fabricio Werdum.

On the cusp of challenging for the UFC championship for the first time in his career, Browne needed only one last victory against a suddenly resurgent heavyweight who’d previously disappointed in his first run inside the Octagon. Many believed Werdum’s only chances of winning this fight relied solely on his ability to get it to the ground. Many were wrong.

“Vai Cavalo” prospered on the back of his striking, using a high-volume approach to overwhelm his taller, younger counterpart. Five rounds later and the verdict was about as one-sided as anybody could have expected.

It was a sign of things to come for the once-promising fighter, who is now 2-4 since that night. His lone victories have come against Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione — a pair of relatively middling fighters who never accomplished much in the UFC. His defeats came against Werdum (twice), Cain Velasquez and Andrei Arlovski — all former UFC heavyweight champions.

Now 34, “Hapa” remains ranked within the UFC’s top 10, but that’s more or less a result of where the division stands as a whole than Browne’s merit in 2017. He faces Derrick Lewis at UFC Fight Night 105, which can be seen as nothing more than the first time Browne will be used as somewhat of a stepping stone for a fighter whose trajectory is facing the opposite direction.

Struggling to recreate his earlier success over the past three years isn’t reason enough to cast the Hawaiian aside as a bust. Losing out on the sort of footwork and elusiveness he had when he first transitioned into the UFC is a different story, though. He’s not the fighter he once was, but still carries the sort of recognition that makes him a serviceable opponent for somebody like Lewis, whose five-fight winning streak can only be legitimized with a big win over “Hapa.”

Losing this fight will only make things worse for Browne, who will likely continue down this path of irrelevance in the division. An unimaginable fall for the man who danced around the Octagon like a 6-foot-7 Dominick Cruz.

A victory, however, offers unquantifiable value. Dispelling the hype surrounding a future contender in Lewis, and doing so in ways that allow his own skills to shine along the way, puts Browne back in a position he’d rather be in — a slot that doesn’t require him to serve as a litmus test for other up-and-coming fighters. A win puts him back in line to make an expedited run to the top.

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