Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Travis Browne had two children before he ever learned how to shoot for a double-leg takedown or defend a rear-naked choke.
Unlike almost all of his colleagues on the UFC roster, Browne had no involvement in any type of martial arts for the first 25 years of his life. It wasn’t until five years ago that the heavyweight decided he wanted to try fighting.
“I was just the guy watching from the couch,” Browne said. “I got into MMA because I wanted to show my kids that they could be an athlete, that they could push themselves in whatever direction they wanted in life.”
“Athlete” is the word most associated with Browne’s mixed martial arts career. Browne can manage his 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame with graceful agility, sometimes to a fault.
His only career loss came after he tore his hamstring throwing a spinning back kick against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva two years ago. But Browne has bounced back to win three in a row via first-round knockout to get one victory away from a title shot.
If Browne defeats Fabricio Werdum in the main event of UFC on Fox 11 on Saturday, he’ll get a crack at Cain Velasquez when the heavyweight champion returns from shoulder surgery.
“I earned the fight with Werdum, and after this one, I’m going to have earned the fight with Cain,” Browne said. “I’ve worked my way to this spot, and no one is going to deny me.”
It’s a remarkable rise considering how Browne spent the early portion of his adult life. While Velasquez converted college wrestling honors into a career and Werdum signed his first UFC contract, Browne was training dogs.
“That was where my passion was at the time,” Browne said.
With two new baby boys — Kaleo, now 7, and Keawe, now 6 — Browne needed to find a way to support his family.
He worked a few different odd jobs around San Diego for a while before deciding to undertake something he always wanted to do.
“I owned a couple different businesses,” Browne said. “I was a painting contractor for a while and then a dog trainer. I opened my own business dog training and had some success.”
Browne would teach canines for normal clients and governmental organizations. The job was rewarding, and helping others gave him great satisfaction.
It was also lucrative, at least enough for his lifestyle. That’s why he kept the gig through his first nine fights on regional cards when a competitive urge steered him toward mixed martial arts.
He also balanced dog and fight training upon first signing with the UFC, carrying dual professions leading up to his first-round TKO victory against James McSweeney at “The Ultimate Fighter” 11 finale.
“After my first fight in the UFC, I knew I had to get out of it,” Browne said. “I knew the UFC and being at this level would consume my time. If I didn’t want to get my butt kicked on fight night, I had to dedicate my life to the sport.
“I sold the business.”
Many would have found themselves conflicted about whether to step away from a business they dedicated years to and built from the ground for a more uncertain future. The odds of an unseasoned fighter like Browne at the time fizzling out of the UFC are greater than flying up the ranks.
But Browne said he was prepared for the sacrifice from the moment he began fighting.
“If I had to contemplate whether to give up the business or sign with the UFC, then I should have kept the business and not fought to begin with,” he said. “Some people said, ‘you have choices.’ But, at least at the end of the day if you want to be the best in the world, you have no choices. You have one direction, and it’s already laid out in front of you.”
The combination of Browne’s faith, risk and diligence has paid off in a major way. He’s favored to beat Werdum — by a 2-to-1 clip, according to local sports books — and fight for the title by the end of the year.
Even if he loses, he’s an established fighter positioned near the top of the UFC heavyweight division. And, most importantly to Browne, he’s set an example for his two biggest fans.
“I just want my kids to grow up to become good men,” Browne said, “and that starts with understanding the world around them. That’s something I push them to do.”