On Sunday night, the quickly rising Derrick Lewis sealed the deal again with a knockout win over Travis Browne. It was the biggest win of his career thus far, and it will probably be remembered as the win that transformed him from a prospect into a legitimate heavyweight contender.
Lewis' making it all the way to a heavyweight title shot, of course, is far from a foregone conclusion. Win-streaks are incredibly fragile in the heavyweight division, after all, and there is no better example of this fact than the man Lewis just thumped, Travis Browne.
Back in December of 2013, Browne stepped onto the canvas with former UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett. It was far and away the starkest test of his career thus far, and he passed it with flying colors, punishing Barnett for a sloppy takedown attempt by punishing him with elbows until he crumbled.
With this career-changing win, Browne was then pencilled in for a fight with Fabricio Werdum. The winner of this fight, it was said, would be awarded a shot at the heavyweight throne, which was occupied by Cain Velasquez at the time.
Well, we all know how that one went. In a fairly surprising twist, Werdum out-struck Browne for five-straight rounds, showboating and taunting incessantly as he did. And just like that, the heavyweight title shot Browne was so close to earning had slipped through his fingers.
Of course, Browne was still young at the time—31-years-old, to be exact. Given this, many fans and pundits were quick to label his loss to Werdum as a mere speed bump; a learning experience that would ultimately make him a better, more dangerous fighter. Unfortunately, however, this has not been the case.
Though Browne has won two fights since then, both of these wins have occurred against middling competition in Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione—both of whom have left the UFC. In the same stretch, Browne has been TKO'd by Andrei Arlovski and Cain Velasquez, dominated in a rematch with Werdum, and of course, knocked senseless by Lewis. And so, his first loss to Werdum now looks less like a stumble and more like a plummet toward irrelevance.
Yet Browne still has time to open his parachute. Even today, when he's on a decisive, three-fight losing streak, he still has all the physical tools to make some real noise in the heavyweight division, and at 34, has plenty of time to do so. Sure, it might well hinge on his leaving the talent-slaughterhouse known as Glendale Fighting Club, but at the end of the day, it's possible. Travis Browne can bounce back.
Where does he go from here? Well, one interesting option for the struggling Hawaiian heavyweight would be the loser of UFC 209's Alistair Overeem vs. Mark Hunt fight. If that loser is Overeem, we have a clash of two floundering heavyweights with a built in revenge narrative, as Browne weathered some early adversity to embarrass Overeem with a front-kick KO back in 2013. If that loser is Hunt, meanwhile, then we get a very interesting physical matchup that should give us a clear sense of where both fighters belong in the ever volatile heavyweight division.
Then again, Browne was just knocked out by the heavyweight division's number eight fighter. To match him up with a long-established member of the heavyweight elite, such as Overeem or Hunt, seems more like undue punishment than an opportunity for redemption. Yes, in the case of Travis Browne, its time for a step down the heavyweight ladder, not up it.
Luckily, there are some interesting options for Browne outside the heavyweight top-10 too. One of these options is Stefan Struve, the only fighter on the heavyweight roster who is taller than Browne. Sure, Browne knocked Struve out back in 2011 when he caught him, mid-flying-knee, with a veritable anti-aircraft missile. But this fight was years ago and both fighters have changed significantly since then. At this stage, the outcome of their first fight is almost irrelevant. And because Browne and Struve are ranked 10th and 11th at heavyweight respectively, it actually makes some sense too—at least as much sense as the Struve vs. Junior Dos Santos bout that was originally expected to headline last Sunday's card.
Then again, fresh is best when it comes to MMA matchmaking. It's almost always better to book a new and exciting matchup over a rematch of a fight we've already seen. So, instead of pitting Browne against Struve, the UFC might be wise to pair him with Alexander Volkov.
Volkov, who is the former Bellator heavyweight champion, recently debuted in the UFC with a competitive, but impressive win over dangerous American wrestling specialist Timothy Johnson. With this victory, he captured the number-12 spot in the UFC heavyweight rankings, and set himself up for a step up in competition. Browne would be just that. At the same time, Volkov represents just the kind of step down in competition Browne needs—he is a tough, but beatable opponent for the struggling Hawaiian. And then, of course, there is the fact that Browne and Volkov both tower above most of their opposition at 6'8. Why not pit these two monstrous heavyweights against each other and see which one truly belongs in the divisional top-10?