Fate can be so cruel. You can have a perfect training camp and be filled with confidence, only to have one thing go unexpectedly wrong and everything else unravel. That's exactly what happened to Travis Browne at UFC on FX 5. Fighting in his first UFC main event, Browne came out with a new style that highlighted his athleticism. It was supposed to be his coming-out party as a heavyweight contender, but his body betrayed him.
At some point of the fight -- Browne said it might have been the very first kick he threw -- his left hamstring popped. The extent of the injury isn't known, but it soon became clear he wasn't working on a stable foundation. At one point, his leg nearly gave out and he stumbled before catching his balance. He tried to adjust by switching to a southpaw style. But on one wheel, he was fighting at a disadvantage.
Suddenly, his athletic style was gone. He was shuffling his steps. He was a more stationary target. And not much later, his opponent Antonio Silva caught him. Make no mistake about it, the punch -- a crushing overhand right -- would have rocked Browne no matter how many good working legs he had. It was the beginning of the end, as Silva followed up with ground strikes for the stoppage win.
Browne could hardly walk off on his own, needing help from his corners to leave the octagon. But afterward, when he could have used the injury as an excuse, he refused to do it. Perhaps with two good legs, he would have sidestepped the strike. Perhaps he wouldn't have let himself be trapped against the fence. We'll never know. Taking the classy route, Browne wouldn't let the speculation get very far, anyway. After briefly answering a question about how he'd suffered the injury, Browne put the focus back on the victor.
"Putting that aside," he said, "'Bigfoot' came out and won the fight. Not trying to take anything away from the guy. Come back stronger."
You could tell from the way he spoke and the look on his face that he was beyond disappointed. Somewhere inside, he might have been asking "Why me?" but nothing of the sort ever left his lips.
"I don't want to take anything away from Bigfoot," he said, repeating the same sentiment. "He came out, he capitalized on something that he saw, and he won the fight."
He even blamed himself for not following through on his game plan, as though a strategy based upon movement and angles would be easy to continue on one leg. Browne did land one sharp right hook afterward, but it was his last stand.
The defeat will sting for a while. Prior to the fight, UFC president Dana White said that he believed Browne to be a top 10 heavyweight, and he had come in as a significant favorite. It seemed obvious that his performance was going to be measured against those of Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, both of whom had finished Silva in the first round of their respective bouts. An impressive win would prop him up. A lose would set back his progress. Browne had a lot to gain and a plenty at risk, and he's going to have to go home wondering what would have happened if his hamstring hadn't popped, and Silva was made to chase around his athleticism.
"All this does is motivate the hell out of me," he said, his voice trailing off for a few moments. "I’m just ready to come back and heal up. I’m still the same fighter but I’m going to come back even more pissed off and harder this time. I f------ hate losing."
A defeat is never easily swallowed but at least he suffered his with dignity.