Former two-division World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ, David Branch, will do battle opposite former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight kingpin, Luke Rockhold, this Saturday (Sept. 16, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 116 inside PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Is David Branch an elite Middleweight? That’s the question we’re hoping to answer with Saturday night’s main event. This is actually Branch’s second UFC run, as he once was inexplicably released following a single loss in 2011. Since then, however, Branch has been on a pretty historic run. He lost to Anthony Johnson in 2012 — no shame there — but went on to win 10 straight WSOF fights and a pair of titles. His UFC debut wasn’t the most exciting, but he still defeated a Top 10-ranked fighter and fast-rising prospect.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
During Branch’s first UFC run, his striking was entirely average. Not terrible, but not terribly effective either, as Branch relied heavily on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu background to win fights. Since then, Branch has developed considerably and scored a pair of stoppage wins on the feet.
The most notable improvement is comfort. Branch has clearly done a lot of training in boxing, and that shines through in the pocket. Branch may never be the most dynamic puncher, but he moves his head well enough and maintains his proper distance much of the time.
Short and simple, he’s quite defensively sound.
Branch makes good use of his 79-inch reach as well. The jab is one of his most active and effective tools, a snapping attack that sets up his power shots well. Between the jab, head movement, and range control, Branch manipulates his opponents into positions where he can score the takedown. The grappler also sets up his right hand fairly well by varying how he throws it. The right very often comes after a jab or three, but Branch doesn’t just throw it smoothly down the middle. Aside from the crisp cross, Branch will step outside with the jab to set up an overhand or loop a right hook to the mid-section.
In terms of a kicking game, Branch will throw a right kick with some frequency. His best set up is to follow the jab with a hard low kick, which makes full use of his range and lateral movement. Against Southpaw opponents like his upcoming foe, Branch is more likely to attack the body and head with his right leg as well.
Finally, it’s worth-mentioning Branch’s dirty boxing along the fence. It’s not the most devastating, but Branch does a solid job of controlling his opponent with an underhook and wrist position. From there, he can land small shots with the hand controlling the wrist or look for knees. It’s not pretty, but it went a long way in securing him the decision versus Krzysztof Jotko.
Another area where Branch has very much improved is wrestling. Offensively, he’s always been quite capable, but Branch was badly out-wrestled by Gerald Harris in his first UFC loss, and that hasn’t happened since.
Like his boxing, Branch’s takedowns are all about timing and distance. He doesn’t have an insane, run-a-fighter-off-his-feet type double leg. Instead, Branch does a great job of timing his shot as an opponent kicks or throws knees. When a fighter is on one leg and standing tall, it doesn’t take much to off-balance them.
Alternatively, Branch does a great job of waiting for his opponent to throw a power punch, slipping, and driving into the shot/clinch. This type of takedown is an extension of his comfort on the feet, as he’s more able to see his opponents movements and react with takedowns (GIF). Once Branch has his man down, he does a great job of mixing control and ground strikes. It’s very difficult to shake Branch, who will advance past the guard as his foe tries to scramble up (GIF).
A Renzo Gracie black belt with seven submission wins to his credit, Branch is a very smooth grappler. At the highest level, Branch’s submission game tends to revolve around grabbing the neck, which is the most surefire way to end the bout.
In one of Branch’s more unique finishes, he ended a fight via Von Flue choke. Not realizing that Ovince Saint Preux — the only man in UFC history to finish two Von Flue chokes — was the main event next weekend, I chose to analyze that finish for Branch’s technique highlight.
More frequently, Branch relies on front chokes to take the back. Attacking with the guillotine or d’arce — a choke that Branch submitted Jesse Taylor with back in 2014 — Branch forces his opponent to stop trying to stand/scramble and instead fight hands. Once that happens, Branch can more easily spin around to the back, his favorite position.
From the back mount, Branch hunts for the rear naked choke that is responsible for five of his victories. Once the body triangle is locked in, Branch likes to attempt the choke while using a palm-to-palm grip. It doesn’t allow as tight a squeeze as the locking the choke up in usual fashion -- a transition Branch does eventually make — but going palm-to-palm allows Branch to more easily stretch out his opponent and sink the choke under the chin.
Thirty five years old and a decade deep into his professional career, it’s pretty clear that this is something of a make-or-break moment for Branch in regard to becoming a UFC champion. He’s already had a very successful career with some great accomplishments, but if Branch is going to fight for the title, he must defeat Rockhold in this bout. Otherwise, time is not on his side, and things will only grow more difficult.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.