Josh Barnett’s Road to UFC 168
To call the career of UFC 168’s Josh Barnett storied would be a massive understatement. He was the UFC Heavyweight champion in 2002, after pounding out Randy Couture. However, Barnett would immediately be stripped of the title, and wouldn’t return to the UFC until 2013. In the mean time, Barnett was fighting some of the best heavyweights in the world in Pride, with his fights against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira going down as true classics. After the fold of Pride, Barnett went to Affliction, and after a pre-fight drug test for Barnett saw positive results, Affliction 3 was cancelled. Lastly, after a three fight stint in Strikeforce, culminating in a loss to currently undefeated Daniel Cormier, Barnett finally returned to the UFC, quickly defeating Frank Mir, and solidified his place as one of the best heavyweights in the sport.
Travis Browne’s Road to UFC 168
Travis Browne is a lot newer to the MMA world, but he’s made his mark fairly quickly. He surprised many with a competitive draw against Cheick Kongo at UFC 120, but really made a name for himself with a superman punch KO over Stefan Struve at UFC 130. After two more wins, he was given a main event slot against Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, in a fight most expected him to win. Instead, Browne was cocky early, managed to injure his own knee, and Silva finished him in the first round. In 2013, Browne has rebounded, quickly finishing former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga, and upsetting former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem with a devastating front kick in one of the best comebacks of the year.
Barnett has been known as a grappler for the vast majority of his career, and it’s tough to imagine him being unhappy with this fight hitting the floor at any point. However, Barnett has never been known as a truly great wrestler, and Browne’s takedown defense remains a question mark — since so few fighters have actually attempted to take him down. On a balance of probabilities, Barnett probably manages to get Browne down, but it’s very easy to imagine Browne keeping this standing, and it’s just as easy to imagine Browne surviving Barnett’s submission attack on the ground.
On the feet, Barnett has made significant improvements throughout his career. He brutally avenged his loss to Pedro Rizzo in Affliction, and most recently against Frank Mir showed a fantastic clinch assault — throwing uppercuts from awkward angles, and finishing Mir with knees off of a frame. On paper though, Browne is the “striker” on this fight, and one has to expect he will prefer to keep it standing, and would likely win a standup battle. Further, given Browne’s height advantage in this fight, it seems unlikely that Barnett could bully him with strikes in the clinch — although it could aid Barnett in securing a takedown.
Ultimately, expect an aggressive Barnett to chase Browne early, pinning him against the fence, but staying very active. He will likely hit a takedown or two, but Browne’s power should be the difference maker, as he survives submission danger to knock Barnett out midway through the fight.