ATLANTA -- UFC's Memorial Weekend event has been talked about as the heavyweight division's coming out party. The main card is completely composed of big men, and at least for now, it includes a championship fight and a No. 1 contender's bout. But there are at least a few heavyweights on Saturday night's UFC 145 show that hope to steal the spotlight away for the time being.
Among them is Travis Browne, the unbeaten 6-foot-7 Hawaiian who is set to face perennial underdog Chad Griggs.
Griggs has derailed more than one promising career, becoming the first man to defeat Bobby Lashley and then topping prospect Gian Villante, with both wins coming via stoppage. He also overwhelmed Valentijn Overeem in the victory that got him to the UFC. Browne acknowledged the impressiveness of those wins, but politely indicated that this is the end of the line for Griggs' streak.
"The thing is, he hasn’t fought a guy like me," he told MMA Fighting. "I’m not like Overeem, I'm not like Lashley, I'm not like Villante. So this is going to be a completely different fight for him."
The differences, he said, are major ones. His reach, his quickness and his athletic ability, for starters. While Griggs is listed at 6-foot-3, he's publicly said he's only 6-foot-1, leaving him at a serious height disadvantage. Browne also has at least a five-inch reach advantage, and he's shown himself to have nimble footwork for a guy who usually checks in at around 255 pounds.
One edge he didn't list was octagon experience. While Griggs will be fighting under the UFC banner for the first time, Browne has four bouts under his belt. His UFC 130 highlight-reel, Superman punch knockout of Stefan Struve announced him as a true prospect, but Griggs and his last opponent Rob Broughton were not quite as well known, putting him in must-win situations. So far, he's delivered, mostly because he hasn't been bothered by the matchmaking, saying he still has much to prove.
"Every fight I feel like I’m fighting for my job," he said. "This guy has a similar style. They want to see who’s going to progress in their career and who needs to work on it a bit. That’s what this fight is about for me. To prove that this is my place, that this is where I need to be, and I will prove it."
Browne also has the advantage of training with one of the best fighters in the world, a guy who also happens to be fighting on Saturday, Jon Jones. Because their schedules synced up, the two have spent nearly all of the last eight weeks working together, training together, and that can only be beneficial for a fighter hoping to reach the same level as his teammate.
Because of that, it's clear that some of Jones' game has rubbed off on Browne. It had to. As a general rule, when something works, fighters will adapt it whenever possible.
"It helps because we have similar body types," he said. "We're long and we're athletic and we can move, so the stuff he does can translate in my game. So I take some of what he does and implement it in my game, and it works well for me."
If the thought of a 6-foot-7 255-pounder throwing a spinning back elbow sounds terrifying, it's because it is. Especially given the type of knockout power he's already illustrated. That's the type of talent Browne brings to the party, and what he would like to show the fight world. But it's all in due time. In the future, like Jones, he'd like to be No. 1 in his weight class, but for now, he just wants to be No. 1 in his match. Easier said than done against Griggs.
"Our styles are kind of similar. We come out and just meet in the middle, and we’re going to go at it and fight until someone goes to sleep," he said. "In the heavyweight division, if you get clipped, you're going to sleep. Speed has a lot to do with it, accuracy, straight punches and straight kicks. If I can be the cleaner fighter, it's going to boost my chances of winning. That's what I need to do. I just want to keep winning and moving forward."