Inside the cluttered mixed martial arts bubble, it’s not uncommon to have insight into an upcoming opponent’s style, tendencies, and game plans. But having intimate knowledge of their dental hygiene—well, that’s a totally different thing.
Heavyweight Travis Browne, who fights Andrei Arlovski on Saturday’s UFC 187 main card, is one such athlete who can make this very obscure claim.
Back in March 2013, while cornering at a World Series of Fighting event, Browne got up close and personal with Arlovski’s chompers, picking up one of the Belarussian’s teeth off the mat in between rounds.
The pearly white was dislodged courtesy of then-opponent Anthony Johnson, who just so happens to be headlining UFC 187. And while Arlovski, Browne’s former training partner and roommate, would ultimately lose that bout, the tooth, and broken jaw from where it came, became a symbol of toughness. The tooth served as an emblem of Arlovski’s will, something Browne instantly took note of in case their paths ever crossed inside the cage.
“I know what he’s capable of doing, so to me that makes me push even harder,” explains Browne. “If I have that much heart going into a fight, I’m good with that.
Following Arlovski’s defeat, the two continued to train together at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Winkeljohn gym. Browne soon went on a tear, scoring three-straight first-round knockouts during the course of 2013. Arlovski won a pair of fights as well. And by the end of the year, the former champion was closing in on a return to the UFC, after six years spent competing outside the Octagon.
Two of New Mexico’s premiere heavyweights, Browne and Arlovski traded shots inside the gym. Respect was earned on the mats, mutual admiration developed, and to Browne, Arlovski became a surrogate older brother, advising the younger Hawaiian on how to maintain longevity in MMA, and in life.
“He’s been somewhat of a mentor in a way…not in the gym…but life outside the cage, having a family and how to take care of yourself financially…always helping to guide me,” comments Browne. “I look up to him as a fighter and as a friend.”
With both athletes riding winning streaks heading into 2014, Browne looked to take his biggest step toward securing a UFC title shot when he headlined a FOX card against veteran Jiu Jitsu specialist Fabricio Werdum. Browne was actually pegged as the betting favorite going into the title-eliminator match, but Werdum showed his experience, weathering Browne’s best punches (thrown with a broken hand) en route to the win, and a chance at heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez’s belt.
And just as Browne found bottom following the Werdum loss, Arlovski hit a high, receiving the news that he was returning to the UFC to take on Brendan Schaub at UFC 174.
Arlovski’s comeback fight was anything but spectacular. He was all but gifted a judges decision in a stinker of an affair. Meanwhile, Browne looked on from the sidelines, nursing a broken hand.
It was during his recovery that Browne made the decision to part ways with Jackson’s for the western shores of California and Edmond Tarverdyan’s Glendale Fighting Club. Browne would leave Arlovski, his mentor, behind in hopes of experiencing a career resurgence.
Arlovski remained in Albuquerque, picking up a second straight win in the UFC, knocking Antonio “Big Foot” Silva out in September 2014.
There was some irony when Arlovski exposed Silva’s fading chin. Known primarily as a knockout artist in his own right, Arlovski was once derided for his inability to take a punch. He suffered through four-straight defeats between 2009-2011, three of those by KO. Many urged Arlovski to retire.
Arlovski remained resilient, however, persevering through the winless drought. And no one was less surprised than Browne, who always believed Arlovski was capable of a comeback.
“My knowledge knows that he is able to change and to adapt to certain styles, so I think he’s gonna come out different, adds Browne. “All he has to do is move differently just a little bit, do one thing differently and it throws off my entire game plan if I start to think about what he used to be like … I just have to be ready for anything.”
For Browne, the UFC 187 date comes with some added pressure. He’s once again being talked about in the title-contention discussion, so an impressive win over Arlovski is essential, especially after fourth-ranked Stipe Miocic, another potential contender, recently stopped Mark Hunt with strikes.
And regardless of whether he’s fighting a dear friend in Arlovski, or Schaub, whom he dominantly dismantled at UFC 181, Browne remains ready to take on all suitors because, as he says, “this sport has taught me how to be selfish.”
Let’s just hope he didn’t pocket Arlovski’s tooth.
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