In today’s Mixed Martial Arts, new fights are announced so often it’s difficult to keep track of all of them, let alone understand how they came about and what the implications are. So twice a week here Daniel Sohn takes an in-depth look at newly announced match-ups to mark on your calendar.
Travis “Hapa” Browne (15-1 overall, 6-1-1 in the UFC)
Strengths: Sheer size, strength, toughness and ever improving skill set
Weaknesses: Has to work on avoiding taking big shots
Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett (33-6 overall, 5-1 in the UFC)
Strengths: Fearless, tough as nails, grappling, subs
Weaknesses: Age, wear and tear, lacks explosive athleticism
The Date: December 28, 2013 at UFC 168
Weight Class: Heavyweight
What led to it: Both of these guys are highly regarded heavyweights who beat their last opponents in impressive fashion. Browne came back after weathering an initial storm from Alistair Overeem to put the Dutch striker down and out. Barnett wowed in his UFC re-debut by coming out on a mission and finishing Frank Mir like leftover pizza. Other top guys are already tied up (Cormier, Nelson, Silva) or on the shelf (Werdum). This matchup makes perfect sense.
Why it matters: In all likelihood, we’re looking at the next title contender emerging from this fight. The title picture at heavyweight is a little complex. Daniel Cormier doesn’t want to fight Cain Velasquez, but Cormier is on his way to earning a shot. Assuming Cain defeats Junior Dos Santos, Cormier is off the table and so is Bigfoot Silva, whom Cain already defeated soundly, twice. If Dos Santos wins, all bets are off and a fresh face would be needed in a title fight. Even if Cain wins, someone new would probably step into the picture, someone like the winner of Browne vs. Barnett.
Both guys are deserving. Looking at Browne, the guy doesn’t look the same as the guy who got finished by Bigfoot Silva last year. Since then, he’s got back to back first round KO finishes. A win over Barnett, after what Barnett did to Frank Mir, and it’d be hard to argue against Browne, especially if Cormier wins and wants no part of Cain/JDS. And he’d be a legitimate threat to any champion, few guys have his size, strength and overall conditioning. He’d give the champ a run for his money and the fight would sell.
Speaking of what Barnett did…wow. Few people manhandled Frank Mir the way Warmaster did. Mir lasted longer against guys like Junior Dos Santos and Daniel Cormier, two of the best in the world and both title hopefuls (Dos Santos already earned another date with Cain Velasquez). Barnett came out with incredible swagger, you could even call it arrogance and complete disregard for what Mir could do. Many times, especially in today’s MMA, that’s only going to lead to a fighter’s downfall, literally, but in Barnett’s case it worked out tremendously well. He came out of the gates with the pedal to the metal and didn’t let off until the fight was stopped. You’d have to wonder how he would fare in a title fight against someone like Cain or JDS. He looked terrible against Daniel Cormier and that loss deflated his momentum in a big way, but don’t forget, he was beating all kinds of people and finishing them in every way possible before and after that loss.
It’s crazy to say it, but just over one year later, we are talking about Josh Barnett possibly competing for the UFC heavyweight championship. Travis Browne is in a similar spot with the way he dispatched Alistair Overeem. A win over Barnett would be two potential title contenders in a row. The winner of this one is going to be hard to ignore for much longer.