There would appear to be little connecting #Bellator’s Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione headliner to the UFC’s Derrick Lewis vs. Travis Browne matchuo, but the fights share many parallels, best expressed through the eyes of their fading underdogs.
Emelianenko, the greatest-ever heavyweight, and Browne, a former prospective UFC title challenger, both enter their bouts as slight underdogs.
In the case of #Fedor, age and technical deterioration have left the legendary heavyweight a shadow of his former self, lacking the physical ability to compete at an elite level, while abandoning the technical skills which allowed him to find such success.
Browne’s decline was more sudden, unexpected, and did not, perhaps, come as an inevitable result of time, and like Fedor, Browne’s technical game lost a certain level of refinement.
It's difficult to dismiss the notion that coach Edmond Tarverdyan’s style of tutelage has adversely affected Travis Browne. Even the sport’s finest coaches can face compatibility issues with gifted fighters, and Browne’s boxing-focused approach under Tarverdyan is perhaps unsuited to him.
During his time at #JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, Browne’s style could often feel disjointed and missing critical details, but his strengths were always brought to the forefront. JacksonWink is not a camp that develops all fighters in a similar mold, instead developing skills that complement an individual’s unique abilities.
In other words, Greg Jackson and his team of all-star coaches were happy to let freaky athlete Travis Browne do freaky athletic things, which suited the lightning-quick 6'7" heavyweight perfectly.
Browne’s game was that of a wildman, capable of delivering impactful, destructive offense from unpredictable and unrehearsed angles.
When Edmond Tarverdyan told Browne “double jab, then you can do whatever you want” during the latter’s rematch with Fabricio Werdum, it felt like a culmination of Browne’s issues as a fighter, as he lifelessly probed at Werdum with his jab for the third round of their contest, the visceral savagery of Jackson-era Browne left as nothing but a distant memory.
Though they reached incomparable peaks during the heights of their abilities, Emelianenko and Browne currently occupy a similar space.
Facing dangerous, high-level opposition, each man is only a marginal underdog. Emelianenko’s opponent, #MattMitrione, is a UFC veteran with incredible speed, explosiveness, and durability. Browne finds himself opposite Derrick Lewis, a meteor-fisted ground-and-pound specialist and one of the sport’s most overwhelming athletes.
Emelinaneko and Mitrione will likely contest their bout primarily on the feet, where Mitrione should have every possible physical advantage. From a technical perspective, the Henri Hooft-trained former NFL player is a sharp and fluid striker, possessing uncharacteristic footwork for a man of his size.
It would not be the first time that Fedor had toppled a larger, more physical striker through technical ability, but it is not clear how much of Fedor, technician, remains in his 2017 incarnation.
Even middleweight-sized brawler Fabio Maldonado came perilously close to finishing “the Last Emperor” in a distressing affair last year.
In his prime, the sambo specialist’s speed and power served to enable his technical game, rather than being the focus of his approach. Now relying more and more on simple flurries of hooks as his physicality fails him, it is uncertain whether the Russian will even possess a technical advantage to offset the substantial size, speed and power advantages afforded to Mitrione.
Derrick Lewis outweighs Travis Browne, but it is difficult to describe the lean 6'7" juggernaut as the smaller man, and the physical battle is far less one-sided than in Bellator’s main event.
Browne, for all of his failings, should still be the quicker man in every phase, and may hold enough leverage in addition to his physical strength to prevent the rudimentary but powerful takedowns of Lewis.
Where Emelinaneko and Mitrione are more likely to stand and trade, both Lewis and Browne do some of their best work from top position and have shown the recent willingness to take a fight to the mat when possible.
Despite Browne’s quickness and experience advantage as a striker, he has always been quite hittable, and the only puncher in the UFC’s heavyweight division who carries a power more sickening than Lewis’ own is presumed future title challenger #FrancisNgannou.
Lewis' forward-moving ball of knockout power and ragdoll takedown capability allows Browne many possible approaches, from outside kickboxing to full-on counter fighting, and this makes it difficult to predict how the naturally chaotic and dynamic Hawaiian will perform on Saturday.
Regardless of their outcomes, the UFC and Bellator’s indirectly competing heavyweight main events offer an interesting case study not only on four technicians at different stages of their careers, but on the transient nature of greatness in MMA, its incredible highs, and its crippling lows.
UFC Heavyweight Top 15
- Stipe Miocic
- Fabricio Werdum
- Cain Velasques
- Alistair Overeem
- Junior dos Santos
- Ben Rothwell
- Francis Ngannou
- Mark Hunt
- Derrick Lewis
- Travis Browne
- Andrei Arlovski
- Stefan Struve
- Alexander Volkov
- Daniel Omielanczuk
- Aleksei Oleinik
- Tim Johnson
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