ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At 6 feet, 7 inches, Travis Browne is usually the tallest person in the gym when he trains at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts.
Standing approximately 12 inches at the shoulders, Nacho, Browne’s French bulldog, is almost always the shortest. Nacho is one of several dogs who hang out at Jackson-Winkeljohn, there to offer unconditional love to fighters no matter what kind of day they’re having.
Nacho’s popularity in the gym, Browne says, knows few bounds. Nor does Browne’s focus as he prepares to face Josh Barnett on Saturday in Las Vegas, Nev.
To that tall task, he brings a bulldog’s tenacity.
A former basketball player, Browne plays no hoops these days. Though still a fan of the game – especially of the Hawaii Rainbows, from his hometown of Honolulu – he watches only a little.
“When I’m into a sport, it’s what I do,” says Browne, 31, who played high school and junior college basketball in the San Diego area. “… I get almost obsessive about it. Now, it’s MMA more than anything, just being here in the gym and concentrating my time on what I have to do to improve my career.
“It’s something I’ll have the rest of my life to enjoy, basketball and football and baseball and all that kind of stuff. … Now, it’s time for me to focus on myself and my career.”
Given Barnett’s level of experience, and given the high stakes involved in Saturday’s fight on UFC 168, a razor’s-edge focus is more than appropriate.
Few fighters in today’s MMA have been fighting as long or have fought as often as Barnett. The 36-year-old from Seattle had his first cagefight in 1997 and has a 33-6 record. Browne (15-1-1) made his MMA debut less than five years ago.
Saturday’s winner, Browne has been told, likely will get a shot at Brazilian Fabricio Werdum – with the winner of that fight assuming No. 1 contender’s status for the UFC heavyweight title held by Cain Velasquez.
“Josh is a veteran of the game, and I expect a tough fight,” Browne says. “But I do expect to come out with a victory.”
Toward that end, says Greg Jackson, Browne’s primary ground coach, Barnett’s experience level is both a potential stumbling block and a tangible advantage for his guy.
“Barnett is a great fighter,” Jackson says. “He’s been around a long time, and that’s good for Barnett in some ways because he’s very experienced and he’s been on the big stage before.
“But it also has given us a ton of video to look at, so that you really know him well.”
Those videos, Browne says, show Barnett to be a solid all-around fighter who excels as a wrestler and grappler. The long, relatively lean Browne is more comfortable on his feet, with 11 of his 15 victories having come by knockout or TKO.
Just because Browne would prefer the fight not go to the ground doesn’t mean it won’t. Accordingly, Jackson has brought in some experienced wrestlers during preparation for Saturday.
Of Ricky Lundell and Neil Melanson, Browne says: “They’ve helped me feel really confident about going to the ground if it ends up there.
“Every camp, I try to improve a certain aspect of the game. Fortunately, I’m still really young in the sport and I look at myself as learning constantly.”
BRANDAO: Brazilian featherweight Diego Brandao, who trains at Jackson-Winkeljohn, also is on Saturday’s card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Brandao ((18-8) is scheduled to face Dustin Poirier (14-3).
Jackson knows Poirier well. In February, the Louisiana fighter lost by unanimous decision to Jackson-Winkeljohn’s Cub Swanson. Jackson believes Brandao, riding a three-fight winning streak, can make it four if he resists an old tendency to expend too much energy too soon.
“We’ve been trying to calm (Brandao) down,” Jackson says. “He did well last fight.
“Every punch doesn’t have to be a home run; setting things up is smart. … It’s just getting him to be calm and to be able to go that 15 minutes.”
Browne’s and Brandao’s fights both are on the main, pay-per-view UFC 168 telecast that features two highly anticipated rematches: Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate.