Brendan Schaub and Travis Browne, two of the younger and more athletic heavyweights, fight in a fascinating contest of neuroticism versus overconfidence on the middle of the card of UFC 181: Hendricks vs Lawler 2, in Las Vegas, Nevada
Who They Are
Heavyweight Brendan Schaub versus Travis Browne
Brendan Schaub is the TUF 10 runner-up, and is 10-4 overall, with 7 KO victories and 1 submission, and is 6-4 in the UFC.He is coming off a split decision loss to Andrei Arlovski
Travis Browne is 16-2-1, with 12 KOs and 2 submissions, and is 7-2-1 in the UFC. He is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Fabricio Werdum.
3 Things You Should Know
1. Brendan Schaub has a reputation for losing by picturesque knockout
Schaub is known in MMA circles as something of a punchline. Emphasis on "punch". Losses to Minotauro Nogueira, Ben Rothwell, and Roy Nelson were obliterations, made worse by the fact that he was favored to win every one on the betting lines. This contributes to the image of the man as something of a pratfall artist, who falls on his face when he should succeed.
This has not been helped by his tendency to say and do... poorly judged things. Calling himself a "legend killer"; coming out to fight Big Nog wrapped in the Brazilian flag; spending an entire BJJ contest running away from Cyborg Abreu and then bragging about it afterwards...none of this endeared him to the public. Big Brown is a really bad nickname.
However, as happens so often in the MMA sphere, Meme-Schaub has a tendency to overwhelm our vision of the actual Brendan Schaub. Throughout the wins and the losses he has quietly worked on improving his game. His top position win over Lavar Johnson was incredibly ugly, but it showcased his improved wrestling. Even if the Abreu Metamoris match was a farce, Schaub subsequently demonstrated that he could apply his BJJ in MMA when he tapped out Matt Mitrione. The Andrei Arlovski fight was (yet again) horrible to watch, but almost no-one aside from the judges thought that Arlovski actually won. For a man famous for getting knocked out, it's been a long time since Schaub actually got finished.
A good (if not elite) athlete who works on the technical elements of their game is someone you should ignore at your peril.
2. The window for Travis Browne to fully realize his obvious athletic potential is closing
Travis Browne, conversely, is an elite athlete. Despite being a big, strong 6'7, he is very quick for the division, and is capable of high-octane, flashy strikes like flying knees, front kicks, and superman punches. In addition, he is very durable, and withstood otherworldly amounts of punishment from both Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum.
However, it does seem at times as though his gifts have led to a degree of overconfidence. Browne threw repeated leaping front kicks against Antonio Silva until he blew out his knee, and was then finished against the cage by the Brazilian. His loosely-connected potshotting style on the outside was repeatedly and savagely exploited by Fabricio Werdum, who overwhelmed him with combination kickboxing.
Like Schaub, however, it's easy to take an overly simplistic look of Browne's successes and failures. He does not simply sit on his athletic laurels, but has made real, concerted efforts to shore up the holes in his game. Fights with Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell were ugly clinch fests up against the cage, where he was unable to get his distance striking off. When he fought Gabriel Gonzaga and Josh Barnett, then, he unveiled his new anti-clinch weapon: brutal elbows to the temple, which were so murderously effective that they are now basically synonymous with Browne. When including the nasty step knee with which he started the finishing sequence against Barnett, it could be argued that the clinch is now "Hapa's" strongest area.
Following the loss to Werdum, it appears he's now attempting to build a more fundamentally technical stand-up style, moving from Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA to Edmond Tarverdyan's Glendale Fight Club. Whether this is a great idea or a disastrous mis-step almost entirely depends upon who you talk to- Tarverdyan has been associated with some great boxers, but his track record of producing MMA strikers has been mixed. Ronda Rousey is, of course, the crown jewel of his stable of fighters. However, there is not nearly enough data to say whether Tarverdyan is a "good" or a "bad" MMA trainer. Someone with Browne's obvious potential, who has been glowing with praise for his new environment, functions as an extremely interesting case study.
Schaub has been fairly dismissive of Browne's move to GFC. Whether this is because he thinks it's a bad gym, or because he feels like he has some kind of inside track due to his relationship with Rousey is difficult to tell.
3. Overconfidence takes on neuroticism
Why are Schaub's wins often so, for lack of a better word, boring? I'd argue that it is because he is absolutely obsessed with winning. The desperation to win has driven him to broaden his game from its early dependence on power striking to encompass wrestling and jiu jitsu, but it also narrows his focus and tunnels his vision once he gets into the cage. When he comes in to fight, he often tightens up painfully and gets unconsciously drawn into only throwing "winning" techniques- telegraphed overhand rights, and takedowns where he desperately holds on to top control, and cannot relax to throw offense (or, for example, convinces himself that he's "neutralizing" Cyborg Abreu in BJJ). This works against him.
However, it cannot be overstated that there is a very real value to that kind of grinding focus on technique and improvement, something which Browne's overwhelming self-confidence has, at least thus far, prevented him from obtaining.
Schaub's well-established problems with his chin, and Browne's tendency to pick up brutal knockouts have perhaps obscured some of the technical issues at play here. Schaub has been picked by many as a gimme opponent for "Hapa", but if he does not freeze, does not get potshotted from the outside, and refuses to get caught in lengthy clinch exchanges, he has a real chance to upset the higher-ranked fighter. If Browne has picked up on some solid combination boxing in his time at GFC, he has a much greater chance to hurt his smaller but more well-rounded opponent, and justify the hype.
However, in the end, I do think that Schaub's tunnel vision in fights will get the better of him. He will cling on to takedowns too long, or back up and panic, or get overly focused on landing the overhand, and Browne will pick up more round or fight-winning offense as Schaub tightens up
Travis Browne by unanimous decision