Thursday, December 26, 2013
Browne recalls first pro fight in Tijuana
By Brett Okamoto
Travis Browne's most harrowing MMA experience might have come in his very first pro bout.
Travis Browne is not the least bit rattled heading into the biggest fight of his career -- a high-profile heavyweight tilt against Josh Barnett at UFC 168 on Saturday.
Truthfully, the circumstances surrounding his first fight were far more intimidating.
Browne (15-1-1) has come a long way since February 2009, when he made his professional debut for a promotion named Cage of Fire in Tijuana, Mexico.
It was the best opportunity Browne’s management could find at the time. He would open the show as part of the very first prelim, for which the promotion would pay him $250 to show plus a potential $250 win bonus.
Monetary compensation was really the least of Browne’s concerns. At the time, Tijuana was caught up in frequent turmoil, as U.S. and Mexican officials were cracking down on the city’s drug cartels.
Browne, who moved to San Diego from Hawaii, had read several unpleasant news reports coming out of the area where the event would be held.
“They were pushing to get the drugs out of Tijuana,” Browne said. “Cartels were hanging cops from bridges and shooting tourists walking down the street.”
Browne eventually agreed to do the fight. The promotion offered to put him up in a Tijuana hotel the day of the weigh-in, but he declined; the less time in “TJ,” he thought, the better.
On Feb. 6, 2009, the day of the weigh-in, Browne parked his car on the U.S. border and walked into Mexico. He took a 20-minute cab ride to a high school-size theater, placing his sports bag against the window along the way so people couldn't see in.
There was no drug testing for the event, Browne said, only a piece of paper that stated he wouldn't legally go after the promotion if he suffered injury.
At least, he thought, he wasn't facing a local fighter. He didn't want a Tijuana crowd cheering against him. That was one of really only two requests he had in terms of an opponent: Avoid locals and giant Samoans.
“I had told my manager I’d fight anyone, just try not to get a Samoan for my first fight,” Browne said. “I fought those kinds of guys growing up in Hawaii and dude, they are ruthless.”
Upon arriving at the weigh-in, Browne met his opponent, Evan Langford -- a 290-pound Polynesian.
“I was like, ‘Ah fricken-ay,'” Browne said.
The day of the fight, Browne repeated the process -- parking at the border and taking a cab to the auditorium. He was the first fighter to walk out that night, before a crowd of perhaps, “a couple thousand people.”
Two of his strongest memories of the night involve smells. The hallway he walked out of, big enough for just one person to walk through, smelled of bleach and ammonia. The concrete flooring appeared to have been freshly soaked with both.
When he walked into the arena, it smelled like smoke. Whether that was from the crowd or the surprising pyrotechnics used in production, Browne doesn't know.
The fight itself lasted 43 seconds. Browne dropped Langford immediately with a left hook and eventually finished it via TKO, landing a left head kick in the final seconds.
Promotion officials invited Browne and his team to stay in Mexico for the night and attend after-parties -- Browne respectfully grabbed his paycheck and bounced.
“As soon as I got my money, I bailed,” Browne said. “They were like, 'Come by the “Coko Bongo” Mega Nightclub afterward,' and I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure. I’m just going to get something to eat.’ We took off.”
Browne said his friend owned a bus he had renovated into a “party bus” of sorts. He picked Browne up from the fight and drove straight back to the U.S. In terms of a celebration, Browne said they caught dinner at Applebees and that was it.
Twenty days later, he fought again at a casino in Highland, Calif. He crammed seven fights into 2009 and signed a contract with the UFC in 2010.
This weekend’s bout against Barnett will likely go a long way in determining the division’s next No. 1 contender. Browne said he hasn't been told specifically what’s next for the winner, but believes it will be a date with Fabricio Werdum.
“I read something that Dana [White] was saying he wants the winner of me and Barnett to fight Werdum for the No. 1 spot and I agree with that,” Browne said.
Seems like a high-pressure situation, for sure -- but Browne, as we all know, doesn't rattle easy.