The UFC’s Travis Browne Is A Baller At Heart

In another time and in another universe, UFC heavyweight fighter Travis Browne is still playing basketball. Frankly, it’s easy to picture the imposing 6’7” mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and jiu jitsu practitioner with a 3-pointer as mean as his superman punch, but he claims his superior quick footwork is what really bridges the gap between his first love and a fighting career that broke out with a flawless 9-0 record before his first defeat. We talked with Browne about his transition from playing hoops for a California community college to the MMA, the NBA players he’d like to go one-on-one with and the perfect UFC workout for a basketball player. Oh, and for good measure, we also asked about his first knockout bout, which—in the tradition of Charles Barkley—also took place on a basketball court.
Photo: Travis Browne/Instagram

BALLnROLL: Thanks for joining us from Albuquerque, NM. Can you start off by telling us a bit about your basketball career?

Travis Browne: I played at Palomar Community College. I played there my first year, and was en route to play a second year, but I felt I needed to catch up with other responsibilities and started working. Growing up that’s what I did all day, everyday, and I actually had offers to go play for a couple different teams. Looking at the options, I could play five years and then come back and I’d be where I was right where I started off before. It would be kind of hard to update the resume to get a job somewhere.

BnR: That’s a problem that some NBA players face themselves. What was your play style and position?

TB: I played a number of them, mostly the 3 and the 4. It depends what team was on the court. If we had a bigger team on the court, I’d play the 3, if we had a smaller team, I’d play the 4. I was really kind of a floater between the two positions.

BnR: Did you have any memorable games back in college?

TB: My kind of breakout time in college was actually after my first year and before my second season. We had a summer league we used to go to play bigger colleges, and during my summer league I averaged a double double in scoring and rebounds. That’s when I really started coming into my own as a basketball player, and it really started taking over. There were times when I was like—that moment when you figure out where you belong on the court, the timings and your moves. I started being pretty dominant in the league.

BnR: That’s always a good feeling. Which teams were looking at you?

TB: We had a couple, I think the teams that were looking at me were through one of the coaches in the area, and I believe one of them was Germany, and the other one was Spain. Barcelona I think. Those were the two teams, I don’t remember the team names, but it was brought up and we talked about it, we went back and forth.
 Photo: Travis Browne, Death Adders Boxing/Instagram

BnR: Did you look up to any NBA players back then?

TB: As I grew up, they changed a bit. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of like—not caught up, because he deserves all the hype he gets—but Michael Jordan and that group, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson. But as I grew up, there were different aspects of every player I really liked. Like Michael Jordan’s creativity, you know? Just off the fly, in the middle of the air, switching hands, this and that. I loved Larry Bird’s consistency and shooting, and his passing. Magic Johnson, how he used passed the ball. I loved aspects of the athletes that I liked, and I’d try to mimic that aspect of them.

One of my greatest players was Charles Barkley. Man, he was one of the toughest S.O.B.s out there. He wasn’t scared of nobody, and he was a great athlete. The grittiness of Dennis Rodman. I remember one year, playing junior league, I even thought I wanted Dennis Rodman’s number, because that year he was so dominant in defense and rebounding, and was such a force to be reckoned with when he was with the ball. I thought, “Man, that’s what I want to do. I just want to frikken shut people down and get the ball!” As you grow up and you start finding yourself, you start admiring the aspects of these different players. And even like Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and Malone, Pippin—it was such a good time back then, and I think just like in any sport where there are different eras and there are freak athletes, I was thankful to be growing up during that era. It really left a mark on me and the kind of athlete I am today.

BnR: Ah, so that explains why you really liked Charles Barkley’s dominance and physical game.
TB: Him and Karl Malone. That guy was a beast! He used to knock people out.

BnR: Do you still follow the game?

TB: Yeah, I follow it. It’s the same kind of way like I was growing up, I wasn’t hooked on one team. I’m more interested on athletes, like Dwayne Wade, LeBron James , Kobe Bryant, you know. All those guys know what it takes to be successful to be where they’re at, to make those sacrifices, because none of those guys get there by dumb luck. At the end of the day, they know all the hard work to put in there.

BnR: They’re just flat out great athletes?

TB: Yeah, exactly, exactly. That’s what I look up to more than any team.

BnR: I hear you got into a fight during a game of pickup. Can you tell us about that?

TB: That kind of squashed my whole competitive side playing basketball because when I stopped playing for college, I would go to some of these competitive [recreation] games and pickup games. There were guys who were competitive, but at the end of the day, there’s a different level of competitiveness. You get these jokers every once in a while. There was this one guy there, he was just running his mouth and trying to cheat, holding the ball out of bounds, and at this particular court, it was timed: it’s either 15 minutes or first to 11 to keep the games going. He’s holding the ball, my team was down by one and there was a minute thirty left, and he was looking at the clock, letting 20 seconds run off. I’d go up to him and I told him “It’s our ball, give us the ball.” We start jawing back and forth, and it got personal—I was a kid at the time, I was 19—and the guy who was running his mouth was like 31. I was like, “Whatever man,” and I turn around to walk away. He said something like “Yeah, that’s right, you better walk away or I’ll kick your ass in half.” So I turn around, and he’s coming towards me like I’m coming towards him, and I shove him down. I say, “If you keep running your mouth, I will knock you the eff out.” He jumped up with his fists closed, coming right at me, right towards me, and I socked him once. That was the end of it. I just knocked the guy out, and I left [because] I was all angry and stuff. I’m done. I ended up doing some damage to the guy. That’s where I caught the bug to be competitive.
Photo: Travis Browne/Instagram

BnR: Is that where you started your transition between hoops and the ring?

TB: The way I transitioned to jiu jitsu, I took almost five years off basketball. I was the fat guy on the couch watching those fights, saying [he] could beat those guys up. So I started jiu jitsu and I was doing that for three months or so, and this guy comes in and his sparring partner didn’t show up. They were like, “You’re the biggest dumb guy in here, why don’t you put on some stuff and get in the ring with this guy training for his fight? He needs to train tonight.” So, like Baby Huey [makes noises], I did it, and I actually did pretty well. I got beat up that night, but I gave him way more fight than they were expecting. When they saw that, the coach was there and he said you should give it a shot. It takes a special person to have that kind of heart. I think maybe four months after session I had my first smoker, which is an amateur muay thai fight, and the rest was history.

BnR: Dec. 28 at UFC 168 you’ll be going up against Josh Barnett. He’s got an impressive record, but so do you. How’s the run up to that fight feel?

TB: I feel really good, I’m confident in my skills and my coaches—my ability and their ability to put a game plan together, and just to pull through and dominate this fight, no matter where it goes. That’s my game plan: just go in there and dominate. It’s easier said than done, but I have the ability to do so. I’m a young guy as far as being in this sport goes—maybe not age-wise, but experience and learning. I’m not all banged up like those guys who’ve been doing this for 12, 13 years. That’s where my basketball relates to the MMA— the athlete that I am in the cage. Being able to move and stay light on my feet, how quick I am for how big I am. My movement in and out, side to side.

BnR: Speaking of that crossover between basketball and fighting, we are hoping you could share with us three of your UFC workout moves that would help a basketball player training for a game.

TB: I think because I’ve done both sports, I’m able to relate to the two different situations, which is funny, because now I’m training a lot of explosive movements and high-intensity endurance. In basketball, you’ve got endurance, but it’s not like you’re sprinting, sprinting, sprinting up the court every second of a game; in a fight, it’s a five minute sprint and that’s it. We do a lot of the same footwork and explosive movements, whether it’s jumping up, or jumping out, and I think that’s something that really relates to basketball. There’s something called a VertiMax, and we use that to jump and increase our abilities to get into our opponent. That’s the same thing you could use for basketball as far as exploding past your opponent.

Having a strong base by doing deadlifts and doing deep squats and making sure your core is nice and strong [works] for if you’re boxing somebody out or if you’re trying to post somebody up, and staying strong in spite of it.

Another thing we do is a lot of medicine ball work, whether it’s throwing it at the wall, throwing it up as far as you can go, or even slamming it at the ground—all that relates back to basketball. Jumping up for a rebound, getting a pass or throwing a pass and just working that core and that strength. Actually, [core training] is something that I think I missed a lot during my basketball day—I wish I would have had it, this kind of training during basketball. I think I would’ve been way more dominant back then than I already was.

 Photo: Travis Browne/Instagram

BnR:We just did a feature on pre-game rituals. Is there anything you have to do before you step into the ring?

TB: The night before a fight, I always like to have my family, friends, coaches and training partners over for dinner. We do what we do, we sit there and relax, we talk stories. That’s something I always feel like I ended before a fight. The other one, more the day of the fight. I like ot get up earlier, which is around 8:30, and get a good sweat, get a good workout in, and go take a nap for two to three hours, then wake up, eat lunch, and get on the bus to go to the arena.

BnR: It was a very honourable to volunteer yourself to be tested for before your next fight by the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) in tandem with Barnett, who was stripped of his championship title for using banned substances. Why did you do that?

TB: Honestly, I just want it to be a fair fight, and I don’t want there to be any question, because Barnett has been under such scrutiny for being stripped of his title and getting popped for steroids. There’s such a stain on the sport because guys decide to do that, because they feel like they need that. I just wanted to show that there’s still good guys out there that still put in the hard work and the training, and really deserve the place that they’re at. And I feel like I’m one of those guys, I want to prove something to my kids, I want to show them that they don’t need that stuff and be an inspiration to people that are sitting on the fence of doing something like that to their body. [I want to] show them that all you need to do is believe in yourself and push. I don’t mind putting myself out there because I have nothing to hide. They’ve already tested me, and I’ve passed. It just shows that there’s still good people out there.

BnR: Okay, to end this interview on a light note: of all NBA players, living or dead, which one would you like to go one-on-one with on the court, and which one would you like to go one-on-one with in the ring? Who will fear the beard?

TB: You know, I would love to shoot hoops with a guy like Pistol Pete, and during that time I would love to just pick his brain, understand what drove him and that kind of stuff. I always look forward to that kind of interaction with great athletes. And I think right now, I would love to get in the cage with—and not in a bad way, in an honourable way, and all those ways—I would love to get in there with Charles Barkley. Just how physical that guy is and how he’d put [hits] on guys, you know, and it’d really be an honour to do something like that with him, and even get a training session in and show him what the sport’s all about.

BnR: Travis, thank you for your time! Good luck with your training and your fight on Dec. 28!

TB: Thank you!


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