Cain tries to show he's still able against Travis Browne this July 9, 2016 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
One sentence summary:
Phil: B-level heavyweight Browne takes on Sea-level Cain to prove that he belongs as part of the A-level, or something.
David: It's a battle between Cain's knees, and Travis' ref alarms.
Record: Cain Velasquez 13-2 Travis Browne 18-3-1
Odds: Cain Velasquez -290 Travis Browne +245
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
David: Unfortunately for Brock, he never got the chance to celebrate with that Corona and a burrito. But Cain has had plenty of opportunities to have his own while nursing a list of injuries rivaling Santa's naughty or nice library. Cain used to be the one shining beacon of stability in the heavyweight division (insofar as we no longer had a rock, paper, scissors dilemma of dominance). Now he's a symbol of its chaos. I can honestly say, I have no idea what to expect. For better AND for worse.
Phil: The apparently decline of Cain was, for me, the last straw when it comes to really caring about heavyweight. Here was someone with the work ethic, athleticism, youth and talent to become something special. Instead, it appears that we're looking at one of MMA's most depressing injury flameouts. I remember all the stories of how Cain could train for as long as (or longer than) lighter weight fighters at AKA, and being just very impressed. Now I'm appalled. The structures of human ligaments and joints just aren't meant for those kind of repeated stresses. Dammit.
David: Now that Ronda Rousey is doing something other than MMA, Travis Browne doesn't have to be heavyweight's Brian Caraway. Browne always struck me as more project than prospect, and nothing about his recent performances has convinced me he's made the transition out of that project phase. Can we even celebrate his win over Mitrione? In any event, I don't think there's time for Browne to "figure it out", but there is time for Browne fight it out. That's kind of all you need past 205lbs.
Phil: It was around the Overeem / Barnett fights that people thought Browne had turned the corner, but those fights were, unfortunately, profoundly non-replicable. It was easy enough to mistake outcomes that revealed themselves to be products of opponents walking into Browne's offense rather than as the results of any real cohesive approach.
That's the story of the UFC heavyweight division, though: staring into the Rorschach inkblot and looking for meaning. "A pretty butterfly", "dog with head split in half", "A good heavyweight" and so on.
What's at stake?
Phil: Never say never - people thought that JDS was done after the Overeem loss. But it will genuinely say something depressing about Velasquez if he loses this one.
David: I wouldn't go so far as to say that Cain is completely irrelevant if he loses because plenty of heavyweights have come back from worse (see Arlovski) but with his history of injuries, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he can establish any semblance of momentum following a loss.
Where do they want it?
David: Not at elevation.
Phil: Amen to that.
David: Like most projects, their techniques and philosophy are raw, but their physicality is polished. This is Browne in a nutshell. He's still figuring out what kind of fighter he wants to be, or rather, what kind of fighting his body should take part in. Perhaps it's a feature of his height: hockey players experiencing late growth spurts tend to be awkward skaters. Whatever the case, Travis has gotten by with a skyscraper menace and an elm street sparkle.
Phil: This is basically what keeps Browne in particular afloat. On a pure skills perspective, Browne is below-average defensively, not a particularly technically polished offensive striker, and an OK takedown threat. The pieces of his game don't fit together particularly well, and he doesn't have a great gas tank when things start going awry. That said, he's quick, tough and hits extremely hard. He mostly throws an array of weird and wacky strikes.
The best thing you can say about him is that he's fairly adept at punishing takedowns, with a short upper (Schaub), step knee (Barnett) and elbows to the temple (Barnett / Gonzaga) which he's used to ice several careless opponents.
David: Cain was definitely an "innovator" in some respects. Instead of being rote, and attempting to land submissions on the ground to display grappling skill, he used those grappling skills not to waste time pretending he was someone he isn't, but used them to accentuate who he already was. Thankfully, these archaic notions of being good on the ground means being able to finish with submissions have long since passed. Being good on the ground is all about positional efficiency, and Cain is great at leveraging and angling for strikes and general offense when on the ground. As for his boxing, is it just me or has it gone downhill since his Big Nog fight? Yea yea, it was Big Nog. But mechanics are mechanics. Cohesive, fluid combinations, ostensible power...what happened?
Phil: Cain's approach is entirely designed to stake his cardio and will against his opponents. In many ways he was ahead of the game when it came to clinch work and head pressure. He was one of the best at eschewing diving straight into guard, but instead working traditional wresting positions like the seatbelt and the ride in order to land strikes, drag opponents back down, and constantly chip away at them. He has a good dipping jab which is the centerpiece of his approach, but when that initial starting piece is interrupted, his kickboxing is very defensively vulnerable, as he keeps his head bolt upright and simply wades his way through strikes.
He's still one of the best defensive and offensive wrestlers to grace the division, with a notable knack for landing takedowns and passing guard at the same time, which normally makes it very difficult to land guillotines. Similarly, he rarely leaves his head on the outside in clinch or takedown situations, which will make it difficult for Browne to land his beloved elbows to the temple.
Insight from Past Fights:
Phil: The Mitrione-Browne fight is maligned, and rightly so. It appeared that Browne was trying to use his fingertips to find Mitrione's memories of TUF 10. "Here's Kimbo down in the medial temporal lobe, I think." That said, once he'd effectively blinded Mitrione, Browne started showing what might resemble the ghost of a cohesive style for the first time in his career. Namely, a decent left straight and snap kicks to the body. That's... a solid basic archetype, one shared by Breese / McGregor etc. Maybe one day if he keeps improving, he'll be able to use it on someone who can see. Is that day UFC 200?
David: Well, Cain will inevitably go for the takedown, and when he does, Browne has shown a maniacal glee in shoving elbows, both legal and otherwise, down his opponent's exposed brain stem. Like he did against Barnett and Gonzaga. I think Cain has historically had a tougher cerebellum than those two, but I've seen Grasso's famous cerebellum brain extensions workout. So who knows.
Phil: Just this gif here (H/T to reddit user u/revt1). One of the most depressing timelapse views of a career I've seen, and one which perhaps indicates that the "elevation" explanation wasn't the primary reason for Cain's loss to Werdum.
David: The ‘elevation' explanation was always modestly exaggerated. The Grasso factor, however? I always joke about Grasso and his Tony Twist style "punch a wall to harden my fists" techniques but this has always been one of MMA's many failings. I realize it'll be hard for trainers to make the most of SportVu, histograms, and coefficients the way sports like basketball, baseball, and hockey have done. But surely an attempt at applying analytics to fight training is better than celebrity fitness woodchuck turds.
Phil: Browne is immensely violent, but also defensively porous. His windows for landing offense before Cain swarms him are likely pretty small. If Browne wins this, it may in some strange reality mean that he has finally come into his own as an elite heavyweight, but in all actuality it probably just means that Cain is done, because Velasquez really should win this. Cain Velasquez by TKO, round 1.
David: I think the issue with Browne mounting an offense is that being aggressive isn't his style (to the extent that he has one). Not only that but I feel like there's some unspoken rule about prizefighting: if you get dropped with a backhand, you're probably not elite. Then again if losing to elevation is your excuse calling card, you've got problems too. I'm starting to think I just hate this fight for unknown reasons. Oh god I'm an MMA hipster. Cain Velasquez by TKO, round 2.