Branch has looked solid since getting his UFC walking papers, winning all three of his middleweight bouts outside UFC including a dominant showing against Dustin Jacoby via unanimous decision last November. He's hoping to build off that victory by scoring a win over a former huge name at middleweight in Filho.
Filho was the former WEC middleweight champion and while he's incredibly unstable and completely unpredictable, he still has the skills to potentially hang with some of the better fighters out there as long as he's got his mind in the right place. Filho is coming off an impressive 47 second knockout over Ninja Rua last September and will be making his first return to American television since the infamous Sonnen ghost incident in 2008.
Record: 11-3 overall, 1-0 in WSOF
How he got here: Dave Branch started as a student under Renzo Gracie, competing in national competitions and doing a commendable job. After attaining his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he decided to try his hand in MMA in 2007 and got off to a hot start, winning his first six fights all via stoppage.
This earned him a UFC berth, but he had a less than welcome greeting, being slammed into oblivion by Gerald Harris and finding himself on Sportcenter's top plays, the wrong end. Branch would bounce back, winning consecutive decisions before once again getting stopped, this time by the brutal leg attacks of Rousimar Palhares, which left him on the outside looking in.
Outside UFC, Branch has thrived, winning three of four fights (only losing a catchweight against Anthony Johnson) and defeating UFC veteran Dustin Jacoby in his WSOF debut last November. Now, he's got a huge opportunity to take on former WEC champion Paulo Filho on the main card of WSOF II this weekend.
How he gets it done: Branch should have a significant height and reach advantage against Filho and he should try to capitalize on that, working his improving jab at distance before entering the clinch and firing off elbows. He's mentioned that he's been putting in significant time to make his overall game "meaner" and he's going to have to prove it this Saturday night if he wants to defeat a man who many once considered the only real threat to Anderson Silva.
Filho has a terrific ground game but Branch shouldn't be too worried about diving into his guard and attacking him there. He's an accomplished grappler himself and while that means their skills will likely cancel each other out and keep this fight from ending via submission, he can still gain superior position and rain down some elbows and overall ground and pound if he can utilize his wrestling and/or takedowns from the inside.
Branch wins this fight is he remains composed and sticks to his gameplan because as we all know, Filho can be very unpredictable.
Record: 23-4-2 overall, 0-0 in WSOF
How he got here: Paulo Filho was once considered one of the baddest men on the planet. He began his career with a tremendous run in Pride and the WEC which saw him win his first 16 fights and become the WEC middleweight champion.
But then everything changed. It started when he failed to make weight for his title defense against Chael Sonnen and then began mysteriously looking away from his opponent en route to suffering his first career defeat. Then after a four fight win streak, things started getting really weird. Filho became unreliable in the weight department, fighting at middleweight, light heavyweight and even heavyweight and he began to lose.
Now sporting a face tattoo, the 34-year old has gone 3-3-2 in his last eight fights, but did knock out "Ninja" Rua in his last fight. No one knows what to expect in his WSOF debut this weekend.
How he gets it done: If the Paulo Filho of old returns, he's got the ground game to not only hang with a legitimate Renzo Gracie black belt, but also to potentially submit him, but again, you never know with Filho.
Branch also has been stopped via knockout in the past and Filho possesses some startling power if he connects with his fists. It will all come down to whether he shows up in fight shape and is mentally ready to return to a relatively big stage again.
If he comes in, shows no respect for Branch, is there mentally and goes right after his opponent, he's got a shot. But that's asking a lot from the Brazilian.
Fight X-Factor: As mentioned before, the biggest X-Factor has to be Filho's mental state. He's been all over the place ever since his last WEC fight against Sonnen and you just never know which Filho is going to show up. He's shown flashes that the old Filho still exists, but that's not exactly reliable. Filho could come in and crush Branch, or he could shy away from the first big strike that lands and get dominated.
Bottom Line: The sheer curiosity of this fight makes it intriguing enough to be one of the bouts fans are likely most interested in seeing. Paulo Filho was a man who used to be ranked number two in the world behind Anderson Silva for a reason. He has a boatload of talent and is more than capable of making this a very enjoyable and watchable fight. That being said, his unpredictability could make this bout unbearable, although the sheer spectacle of it could be enough to make the fans want to tune in.
Who will come out on top at World Series of Fighting II? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!