Destructive kickboxer, Brandon Thatch, is set to scrap with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight kingpin, Benson Henderson, this Saturday (Feb. 14, 2015) inside the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colorado.
Thatch is an absolute mauler, a cyclone of kicks, knees, and heavy punches. The Grudge MMA-trained scrapper wastes little time inside the cage, rushing toward his opponent and bringing the violence early. It's no surprise the gigantic welterweight has finished each of his 11 victories inside the first round.
On the regional scene, Thatch made a habit of finishing his opponent within a couple of minutes, and that carried into his UFC career, as well. Now, Thatch will face the toughest test of his career, as he takes on a battle-hardened former champ.
Let's take a closer look at his skills to see if he's up to the task.
After starting Karate in his teens, Thatch had a successful kickboxing career for a short time. He made his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut back in 2008 and wreaked havoc on nearly every opponent he fought, admittedly at a slow pace of two or three bouts per year.
As mentioned, Thatch is by no means a slow starter. He immediately walks toward his opponent and is ready to throw heat.
Usually, Thatch opens the bout with some kicks. These aren't softball, range-finder kicks. Thatch will step forward and attempt to unleash devastating round kicks. He throws them from either stance well, and Thatch will vary his targets. "Rukus" does not always set up his kicks, but he throws them with such violence most fighters are focused on getting the hell out of the way, rather than countering.
Additionally, Thatch will mix in front kicks and kicks with his lead leg. Regardless of which technique Thatch chooses, he kicks with serious power. Of course, it helps that he's over six feet tall and is not a skinny fighter, meaning Thatch has a considerable size advantage over the majority of welterweights.
Thatch definitely packs some power behind his punches as well, but they mostly just serve to close the distance into the clinch or occasionally set up a kick/knee. Thatch is sure to move forward with each punch -- often a hook or stepping power hand -- so that he can reach out a secure the Thai clinch afterward.
Once Thatch secures a grip inside the clinch, he's a master at doing damage to his opponent. There's never a moment where Thatch allows his opponent to breathe, as he's always throwing something. At times, he's delivering terrifyingly hard knees into his opponent's mid-section, but Thatch will suddenly mix it up with some quick punches to the head to shift his opponent's attention.
Plus, "Rukus" will often separate out of the clinch but remain in boxing range. When he does this, his opponent is often still curled up and trying to stay defensively sound, which means he's not in position to box. Thatch will capitalize on this with a hard combination or step knee before transitioning right back into the clinch. He's really violent with his stepping knee when he does this, as Thatch will explode into this strike after putting himself at the perfect distance.
While Thatch is brutalizing his opponent inside the clinch, he does a pretty decent job of avoiding damage. When he feels that his opponent is attempting to return fire -- often in the form of desperate single shots -- Thatch will either completely close the distance, snuffing the strike, or slip his head out of the way.
In addition, Thatch is constantly off-balancing his opponent and keeping his posture in poor position. In between delivering strikes, Thatch will yank his opponent around, which makes both slipping the clinch and throwing punches much more difficult. Or, Thatch will take a moment to drive his forehead into his opponent's jaw and attack with some punches, which is a classic technique of the Diaz brothers.
Against Justin Edwards, Thatch showed that he could also use his potent clinch on the defensive as well. Edwards began the fight by punching into the clinch -- a truly terrible idea in hindsight -- and pushed his opponent into the fence. From there, Thatch was able to frame Edwards' face and land a couple of hard knees, which helped create the space necessary for him to turn the position around on "Fast Eddy."
Defensively, Thatch does show some problems. Namely, he'll often over-extend himself when he moves in with punches or square his stance up as he moves forward. Both of these traits leave him open to counter strikes and, perhaps more importantly in this bout, takedowns. Thus far, Thatch has been too offensively volatile for any opponents to capitalize on this, but Henderson is exactly that type of experienced gamer who could make him pay.
Unless it's Ronda Rousey, most fighters who finish a majority of their fights in under two minutes aren't landing a ton of takedowns. In general, Thatch is introducing his opponent to a state of unconsciousness, not dragging him down to the mat.
With that said, Thatch has shown some very nice Muay Thai-style dumps from inside the clinch. As he jerks his opponent around with the double-collar tie, Thatch will subtly sweep out his opponent's foot, not unlike fellow clinch specialist Matt Brown. In addition, Thatch has looked to use a heavy overhook to force a trip across the body a couple of times, though it hasn't worked just yet.
Obviously, takedown defense is a seriously important aspect of Thatch's game. If it's not up to par, then his vaunted kickboxing wouldn't be quite so threatening.
For the most part, Thatch is a pretty difficult man to take down. Once he secures the clinch -- which is generally very quickly -- he's overpowering his opponent, breaking posture, and landing vicious strikes. Each of those things makes pummeling for underhooks and landing takedowns very, very difficult.
However, the fact that Thatch reaches with punches and throws kicks/knees without set up at range can most definitely land him on his back. The former can be seen in Thatch's bout against Mike Rhodes, who ducked under a straight right to blast through Thatch's hips without much difficulty. More recently, Paulo Thiago managed to grab a stepping knee and turn it into a quick double leg attempt.
Luckily, Thatch managed to show a strong ability to scramble back to his feet in both these situations. Again, it really helps how much bigger Thatch is than his opponents; it's really difficult to contain a fighter like that, especially in the early rounds.
Which Thatch's fights usually don't exceed.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Unfortunately, the short nature of Thatch's victories means that it's impossible to get even a decent read on his jiu-jitsu. The only bout in which Thatch spent a fair amount of time on his back occurred way back in 2008, making it unfair to draw present-day conclusions.
It's not anything incredible, but Thatch seems to have a pretty decent overall top game. On the mat, his aggression is no different than inside the clinch, as he actively works to land punches before throwing his opponent's legs to the side. Once Thatch moves around his opponent's guard, he'll work his ground strikes until they give up the back.
Like any good lengthy grappler, Thatch is well-versed in the back mount. Each of his three submission victories came via rear naked choke, including his win over former UFC fighter Mike Rhodes.
Best chance for success
Thatch cannot afford to show his opponent any respect. If he lets Henderson settle into his rhythm or believes Henderson's no-selling of strikes game, he's making the fight too easy.
Instead, Thatch needs to walk Henderson down, slap him in a clinch, and treat him like a lightweight. If Henderson does manage to pull off an early takedown, Thatch shouldn't be discouraged, as he's strong enough to get up early in the fight without much effort.
If Thatch puts himself in position to manhandle Henderson, he'll likely do just that. Thatch is truly a wrecking ball, and this is not the fight in which he should change up his style. Against a smaller opponent who most certainly intends to take over late, Thatch should put forth as much violence as possible in the first round and get his opponent out of the cage immediately.
Will Thatch continue to carve a path of destruction through the welterweight division, or can Benson Henderson make a successful welterweight debut?