Hope, faint as it was in the moment Travis Browne found it, emerged in the form of a front kick.
Things had gone all wrong until he snapped off that gut-deflating kick to Alistair Overeem's midsection. Browne, 31, allowed Overeem the boost of confidence, which is just about the worst thing a person can do if they're fighting the Dutch banger. No matter what people think about Overeem in the wake of his drug issues and now, back-to-back knockout losses in the Octagon, he can still punch and hit and knee with devastating results.
And for the first half of the first round, Overeem did just that against Browne, who absorbed so much punishment it easily could be used as the counterclaim to the idea that heavyweights can't take more than one punch and survive. We know that's not true because Randy Couture showed it against Pedro Rizzo the same way Brock Lesnar did against Shane Carwin. Those were tremendous comebacks, each unique in their way. So was Browne's rally against Overeem.
The front kick appeared out of thin air. But that's what Browne wanted to do all along, it just took him suffering through a tentative start and subsequent beating to get there.
After finally managing to stand and shake off the assault from a 265-pound threat, Browne told himself he wasn't going down again. Nope, instead, he expected to kick Overeem in the stomach. And if that went well, maybe the face.
"I just felt him hitting me so I knew I needed to get up and get back to work," the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian said.
The front kick became part of the game plan because the brains at Greg Jackson's camp found Overeem's "common denominator for what he did and some of his openings," Browne said.
It was the way in which Overeem held his elbows too far out, Browne said. That led the group to think Overeem could be susceptible.
Brown flinched at the start of the fight. He backed away from Overeem's aggression, which only spurred on more attacks. For that he paid a hefty price, but it hadn't been enough. And when that first kick landed, Browne felt new life. Hope. So he kicked again. It landed. Overeem paused. Browne moved forward. Kicks were aimed at the head, and they landed, too. Finally, one connected with power, and Overeem hit the canvas.
"I kept going back to it and as he kept dropping his elbows further and further," he said, "that's when I saw the opening to the head and I took it."
Browne boasted that Overeem learned what his training partners are too familiar with.
"You can ask just about any of my training partners at Jackson's, because I've hit everybody with that shot," he said. "And they've all pretty much went down."
The win pushed Browne to 15-1-1. His lone loss: a technical knockout against Antonio Silva after popping a hamstring early in the fight. Knockout wins against Gabriel Gonzaga in April and now Overeem make Browne look like a force in the division. ESPN.com currently ranks Browne at No. 9, and he's in line to move up.
Browne said he'd like a fight with Fabricio Werdum (ranked No. 3), who has won three in a row over Roy Nelson, Mike Russow and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Many feel Werdum has done enough to merit a title shot, and the Brazilian's trainer, Rafael Cordeiro, told ESPN.com that their intention is to wait for a five-round fight.
Said Browne: "I've never said 'no' to a fight and I've always been ready for anything they've thrown my way.
"It's definitely not out of the question."
Based on his effort so far, neither is a championship.