UFC 168 Preview: Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne

On a stacked card for the last UFC event of 2013, headlined of course by Ronda Rousey and Chris Weidman defending their respective titles against Miesha Tate and Anderson Silva, a heavyweight fight with serious title implications leads us into the two championship fights. Travis Browne, coming off of a shellacking of Alistair Overeem, faces Josh Barnett, who recently buzz sawed through Frank Mir.

Fighter Summary

Travis “Hapa” Browne (15-1 overall, 6-1-1 UFC)

Strengths: Size, KO power, durability, poise

Weaknesses: Grappling

Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett (33-6 overall, 1-0 UFC – recent stint)

Strengths: Veteran savvy, toughness, grappling/subs

Weaknesses: Lack of explosive athleticism

Fight Breakdown – If you didn’t catch Barnett’s performance against Frank Mir, now might be a good time to go look it up somewhere, not just for the sake of a fight preview, but for your own MMA experience. Barnett came out of the gate at 110% and didn’t let up until the ref stopped the fight. Very few people have the combination of skill, toughness and sheer craziness and guts to go after a fighter like Frank Mir the way Josh Barnett did. Mir is a tested veteran, a powerful, capable and dangerous fighter. Barnett had to eat his share of shots to win it, but he overwhelmed Mir and dropped some jaws along the way.

More than a few people were probably holding their breath after that performance though, all the way until Barnett’s post-fight tests came back clean. If you don’t have an idea of Josh Barnett’s storied history with banned substances, now might be a good time to go look it up somewhere, again, for the sake of your own MMA knowledge.

So, for how impressive Barnett’s performance was against Mir, he already did that, so there’s no way he would play that card again right? Well…not exactly. Crazy as it sounds, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Barnett do the same exact thing. It wouldn’t be the most strategic thing to do, but going after Mir the way he did wasn’t exactly the most strategic thing either. But in a reverse logic sort of way, it does make some sense. Hit the opponent fast and hard, don’t give them a chance to get comfortable or find a rhythm, and smother them until the fight is over or stopped.

For how dangerous and big Travis Browne is, Barnett may be looking to do exactly that. Browne is absurdly tall for an MMA fighter, and uses his size well. He’s not just a tall guy that is lanky, sluggish, and weak. He’s strong and athletic and has a lot of power in his strikes. Barnett cannot and most definitely will not let this turn into a pure striking match, because he’ll probably get the worse of it. Look for Barnett to get after Browne and take this thing down to the ground as soon as humanly possible. Barnett is going to test Browne’s grappling and take down defense to the fullest, and if he gets Browne down, it’s going to be open season for the Warmaster and Browne will be in a lot of trouble. Barnett has excellent submission skills and very nasty ground and pound, so Browne has to stay on his feet and off his back at all times.

If Barnett’s bread and butter is grappling and a vicious ground game, Browne must do everything he can do avoid playing into that. That’s Barnett’s world. Browne has to keep his distance and utilize that length and range to tag and pepper Barnett much like he did in his comeback against Overeem. Out of Barnett’s six losses, only one was by KO and he’s fought some of the heaviest hitters in the game. The flipside of that is 11 out of Browne’s 15 victories have come by KO/TKO. So Browne most likely won’t put down Barnett with one punch or kick, but he is still very capable of finishing Barnett with strikes if he gets him hurt.

In order to utilize his strikes though, Browne has to keep Barnett off of him and create some distance. Barnett is going to come after him like a rabid dog to try and make it ugly. Browne absolutely has to stay active, on the move and out of the clinch.

Key to Victory: Can Browne keep Barnett on the defensive?

Keeping Barnett on the defensive would mean Browne is doing a lot. He’d have to be utilizing his strikes effectively enough to keep Barnett on guard and off balance. The strikes would have to be dangerous and powerful enough to potentially stun and knock Barnett out. It would also mean shrugging off the inevitable attempts by Barnett to make the fight ugly and use that dirty boxing and nasty ground and pound game. Browne would have to avoid those takedowns and stay on his feet, and keep his back off the cage for the majority of the fight. So keeping Barnett on the defensive would necessitate all of those things, and if Browne can do that, he’s going to win. If he can’t, Barnett is going to lock him up and make it a grinder.

Why It Matters – If it wasn’t for Fabricio Werdum, this would very likely be the heavyweight title eliminator. Hell, it probably still is to see who gets dibs after Werdum and Velasquez duke it out. Or if Velasquez doesn’t return until late next year, the winner of this fight could meet Werdum in a title elimination bout.

Werdum has certainly earned a shot at heavyweight gold, but he isn’t the sexy pick. Browne or Barnett against Velasquez would sell and makes for a very interesting fight. Browne is on the short list for title contenders at this point in time. Because Velasquez has so convincingly beat both Junior Dos Santos and Bigfoot Silva on separate occasions, the list of viable contenders just became that much shorter. If Browne can show the total package, which he absolutely will have to in order to defeat Barnett, then he makes a strong case for a shot. He’s got the talent and skill to contend, but defeating Alistair Overeem the way that he did doesn’t seem that impressive since a lot of the luster has worn off of “The Reem”. Beating Barnett to follow that up though, that would mean much more.

Speaking of Barnett, it would be very ironic to see him fighting for UFC gold. His career really would have come full circle if that comes to fruition. Here’s a guy that many thought would never fight in the UFC again, let alone compete at the highest levels and possibly challenge for a title. If he gets through Browne the way he did Mir, he’s looking at a very fast track to a title shot, and could plausibly defeat whoever is champion at the time. Going from getting beatdown by Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, to UFC heavyweight champion in a two year span? That would have been crazy talk just a few months ago, but it isn’t exactly farfetched to say that now.  As interesting and full-circle as that might be, the cat is out of the bag now and Browne has seen what Barnett is capable of.  He’s going to stay out of trouble and make Barnett fight on his terms.

Prediction – Browne

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