There is clear delineation at the top of the UFC's heavyweight division. Champion Junior dos Santos, former champ Cain Velasquez and the currently suspended Alistair Overeem have separated themselves from the pack.
The group immediately below them contains an inordinate number of quality fighters – from veterans like Frank Mir, Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson to rising talents like Stefan Struve.
Travis Browne is in that second pack, but he has the ability to be in the first.
Throughout his brief and mostly successful mixed martial arts career, Browne hasn't been as consistent as one would expect an elite heavyweight to be. He's 13-0-1 and, in UFC president Dana White's mind, already a Top 10 heavyweight. That said, Browne hasn't always inspired confidence.
He stands at something of a crossroads heading into his five-round match with Antonio "Big Foot" Silva on Friday in the main event of UFC on FX 5 at the Target Center in Minneapolis. It's an unusual spot for an unbeaten heavyweight, but Browne understands the stakes.
Velasquez destroyed Silva in May. Though it may be unfair to Browne, because every fight is different, he knows his performance against Silva will be judged against Velasquez's.
"You know the old adage: Do something good and somebody will tell one other person," Browne said. "But do something bad and they're going to tell 10."
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His skills and size (6-foot-7, 246 pounds) make Browne a factor at the top of the division – when he's interested and in a mood to fight.
It's nitpicking to get on Browne, but he has at times appeared disinterested or not in the best shape.
His trainer, Greg Jackson, concedes as much but said Browne has made significant strides.
"Attribute the inconsistency he's had to physical preparation," Jackson said. "Some fights, he's been in shape and others, he's not been. When he gets his physical and mental skills in line and consistent, he's a dangerous guy.
"Travis has an iron jaw, he hits hard and he's skilled in all areas. He can put you in la-la land if he hits you on the chin."
Jackson and White don't agree on much these days – White has disparaged Jackson as "a sport killer" – but they're in sync on Browne.
"I think he's already a Top 10 heavyweight and he hasn't done a thing to me that would suggest he can't be up there on the same level with the very elite guys," White said.
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He gassed late in a draw with Cheick Kongo at UFC 120, but came back and scored an impressive knockout of Struve at UFC 130. He decisioned Rob Broughton at UFC 135, but didn't have the fire that a dos Santos and a Velasquez regularly show. But he responded by looking impressive in a first-round submission of Chad Griggs in April.
"One of the hardest things to acquire in the MMA business is consistency," Browne said. "Guys come out and have a great performance one day and a horrible one the next. Consistency is what makes people love you. Look at all the greats. Look at Chuck Liddell. Look at Randy Couture. They always came out ready to fight and put on a show. If a fighter does that, I believe it's something that the fans fall in love with.
"When I go into a fight mentally feeling I'm ready, I've never fallen short of my own expectations. The only time I've fallen short of my own expectations is when I didn't do what I needed to do in camp. The mentality you take into a fight has a lot to do with how the fight itself comes out. … I had some issues with immaturity, but I have really tried to overcome all that and be a professional."
If he was successful at it, he should rout Silva on Friday and push himself to the level where the best heavyweights reside.
There's nothing holding Travis Browne back from getting there other than, well, Travis Browne.
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