Travis Browne's voice quivers, and he seems about to be overcome with emotion. He's talking about his fight with Fabricio Werdum on Saturday in the main event of a UFC card on Fox in Orlando, Fla., and the possibility of a match later this year with champion Cain Velasquez.
Browne is one of the hottest properties in mixed martial arts and has made a huge fan of UFC president Dana White.
"This guy is just awesome, man," White said. "What he has done, the way he's improved and how good he's looking now, man, that's scary. He's incredible."
A win Saturday would be his fourth in a row, all against high-level opposition, and leave him as the only logical contender for Velasquez's belt.
Browne starts to answer a question about what the fight means to him, but he stops. He sounds on the verge of tears, so he takes a second to compose himself. After a deep breath, he resumes, having failed to regain it.
"It's hard to explain just how tough this is and how much I've invested in this," Browne said.
He's been away from his sons, Kaleo and Keawe, for nearly two months as he's prepared for Werdum. They are young and have difficulty understanding why their father leaves them for such long stretches.
Sacrifice is a major part of every successful fighter's preparation, but this seems extreme, almost cruel and unusual punishment, to hear how torn Browne is about having to be apart from his children.
"I want to be the best in this sport because I'm a competitor, but the real reason why is it will be the vehicle to be the family man I want to be," Browne said. "The more successful I am at [fighting], the more chance I get to be a family man. I want to spend more time with my kids and my fiancée [Jenna Webb].
"That's what I am using this for. This is a difficult sport and it's a sport where you have to be prepared for so many eventualities and possibilities. It takes so much time and so much work. And as a guy with a family, there is a lot of sacrifice that must be made."
He's committed everything he has to making himself the best. He's training at Jackson's in Albuquerque, N.M., to take advantage of what he believes is the best coaching available.
The dedication he's shown in the gym has paid off in the cage, where in his last three fights he's finished Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett in the first round.
Werdum is on something of a roll himself, having defeated Roy Nelson, Mike Russow and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his last three outings.
A former basketball player, Browne has only competed in MMA for a little more than five years.
"That includes everything, all my amateur training, all my fights, everything," Browne said. "I'm still very young in this sport."
Browne often struggled with his confidence. It wasn't until he had a conversation with White in the catacombs of the TD Garden in Boston after his 2013 victory over Overeem that Browne began to believe he might have the ability to be special in the game.
"I was still questioning myself leading up to that [Overeem] fight," Browne said. "I talked to Dana in the back after that fight, and he helped me realize what I'd done and what I could be capable of doing in this sport.
"He said to me, 'Do you realize that you just went against one of the baddest men in the world, one of the most feared strikers?' He said, 'You took everything he had, was almost KO'd, and came back and put him away.' I never thought about myself that way and when he said it, it was like a light bulb clicked."
The chat with White allowed Browne to realize that he belonged among the elite of the sport, and that with a little more dedication and persistence, he could accomplish things he wouldn't even dare dream of in the past.
A title fight and potential victories could lead to life-altering paydays that could allow him to do things for his children he never imagined possible.
"There is a reason we fight and for me, it's my family," Browne said. "I never forget them. Never. If I didn't have them, I'm not sure I would be here or if I'd be as good at this as I've become. I get myself so motivated, and it's because of them.
"My fights all have great meaning to me because they give me the chance to put myself in a position I probably wouldn't have been in before without all of this. The one thing I won't lack in this business is motivation."
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