For the second straight event, the UFC highlights the heavyweights in the night's showcase, as UFC on FX 5 brings Travis Browne and Antonio Silva in the starring roles.
On the surface, this fight does not make a whole lot of sense. Browne is still undefeated in his career, with only a draw holding him back from true perfection in 14 career bouts. His opponent, meanwhile, comes in without any momentum, having been knocked out in crushing fashion in each of his last two bouts. As a result, Browne is a fairly significant favorite at over 2-to-1.
At least when it comes to opponent level though, it is Silva (16-4) who has so far faced the better competition. Yes, he did lose decisively to former UFC champ Cain Velasquez and Strikeforce Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier, but he also has a stoppage win over Fedor Emelianenko and beat Andrei Arlovski in a decision. By comparison, Browne's most significant victory came in a KO against Stefan Struve, and his only other notable opponent was Cheick Kongo in a fight that went to a draw after Kongo was penalized one point for repeatedly holding Browne's shorts.
So, to be blunt, Browne (13-0-1) has more to prove while Silva has more to lose.
At 6-foot-7 and 255-pounds, Browne has shown fantastic athleticism to go with his impressive size. From what we've seen, he does everything fairly well. He strikes with power, he has decent wrestling, and he appears to be serviceable on the ground. The difficulty in forecasting his fight is that we just haven't seen a whole lot of him. Three of his UFC bouts have been quick, first-round finishes, and the other two have gone the distance.
Browne mostly prefers the standup, landing his strikes at an accuracy rate of 42 percent, according to FightMetric. Coincidentally, that's the same number landed by Silva. It is Silva though, who has the better defense, causing his opponents to miss 61 percent of the time to Browne's 53 percent. One of the reasons for that is no doubt the reach differential. While Silva, who is 6-foot-4, has an 82-inch reach, Browne, though three inches taller, has just a 78-inch reach.
Because Browne trains regularly with light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones, the owner of the UFC-record reach at 84.5 inches, Browne shouldn't have a major problem finding his range against Silva.
The Brazilian has a good striking game. Despite his size, he's got good footwork and boasts knockout power, with 11 of 16 career wins coming by KO. He's even capable of switching stances mid-fight. The real issue for him recently has been his chin.
As noted, he was KO'd by Velasquez and Cormier. Two fights before that, he was dropped by Mike Kyle, who has fought most of his recent career as a light-heavyweight. Though Silva was able to come back and win that time, the trend of getting knocked down -- it's happened in three of his last four fights -- is a troubling one.
At least Silva has a decent backup plan. On the ground, he has excellent jiu-jitsu, and though he has only three career submissions, he showed his ground prowess with the way he dominated Emelianenko on the mat during his upset win. Against Browne, he would most likely have his biggest edge there.
Browne won't be easy to get to the mat; he's never been taken down in his career, according to FightMetric research.
As with any heavyweight fight, there is a question of who will wilt first if the fight goes long. As the main event, it's scheduled for five rounds, and both have shown a propensity to run out of steam even in three-round bouts. Silva struggled late in his win over Andrei Arlovski, while Browne huffed and puffed to the finish line of his decision win over Rob Broughton last September as well as his bout with Kongo.
If the fight goes past that and into the fourth and fifth rounds, who will be in better shape? That's guesswork. Silva is on record as saying he doesn't expect the fight to go more than two. He also seemed to indicate that he wanted to beat Browne on the ground. Whether these are his honest thoughts or simply pre-fight bluster to get into Browne's head is unclear, but I tend to take him at his word. Silva needs a win -- any kind of win -- much more than he needs to fight a crowd-pleaser. When he beat Fedor he was on top of the world; twenty months later, he's staring at the possibility of losing his job.
Here's the thing with that: the grappling game is more exhausting for the person trying to take the fight down than the one defending. If you're able to get your opponent to the ground, that dynamic shifts, but Silva isn't a great wrestler and Browne's surprisingly good.
Browne has the edge on the feet, and he's going to keep it there. Silva will shoot in a few times and if he can't get it to the mat, he'll be faced with competing with Browne where he's at his best. In a standup war, who's chin would you put money on? I think Silva's right that the fight won't go past two rounds, but unfortunately for him, he's likely to be on the losing end. Browne via second-round knockout.