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UFC Fight Night 128 card: David Branch vs Thiago Santos full fight preview

MMA: UFC 211-Jotko vs Branch Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight standouts David Branch and Thiago Santos will square off this Saturday (April 21, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 128 inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

A former UFC washout who went on to become a dominant two-division World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ, Branch’s ceiling wasn’t exactly clear upon his return to the Octagon. He won his debut and confirmed himself as a top fighter, but his last bout against Luke Rockhold showed that perhaps the title mix was out of his reach.

Meanwhile, Santos started off his UFC career without impressing, losing two of his opening three bouts. Luckily, the UFC liked what they saw in that one victory, a body kick stoppage. Since then, the Brazilian has shored up the weaknesses in his game while doubling down on his vicious kicking, resulting in a four-fight win and knockout streak ahead of this battle.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man.

David Branch

Record: 21-4

Key Wins: Krzysztof Jotko (UFC 211), Yushin Okami (WSOF 15), Jesse Taylor (WSOF 10), Vinny Magalhaes (WSOF 33)

Key Losses: Luke Rockhold (UFC Fight Night 116)

Keys to Victory: Branch first found success solely as a grappler, utilizing his Renzo Gracie black belt to smother foes and strangle them. In the past few years, however, Branch’s greatly improved boxing and offensive wrestling made him a much more complete threat.

Last time out, Branch attempted to pressure box Luke Rockhold, a brutal Southpaw kicker. Once again, he faces a nasty kicker — one of very few who kicks harder than Rockhold, in fact — and will be forced to attempt the same exact game plan.

Luckily, Branch did not lose that bout because his pressure boxing failed. In fact, it was working so well that Rockhold turned to his offensive wrestling, a skill that Santos does not possess. Instead, if Branch manages to punch his foe into the fence like he did opposite Rockhold, Branch can instead transition into his own takedown and try to make use of his massive grappling advantage.

There is one caveat to that though. Lately, Santos has done a better job of defending takedowns, and foes trying to force bad shots no longer have any success, leaving themselves very vulnerable. If the shot isn’t there, Branch has to accept that and be wary of wasting energy.

Thiago Santos

Record: 17-5

Key Wins: Jack Hermansson (UFC Fight Night 119), Anthony Smith (UFC Fight Night 125), Elias Theodorou (UFC Fight Night 80)

Key Losses: Gegard Mousasi (UFC 200), Uriah Hall (UFC 175), Eric Spicely (UFC Fight Night 195)

Keys to Victory: Santos is a big, powerful Middleweight with the most devastating kicks in the division. In his UFC career alone, Santos has stopped four opponents with body kicks — which I would bet every dollar I own is a UFC record — as well as two high kick knockouts, one of which came in the spinning variety.

Early on, Santos’ troubles were defensive wrestling and pacing himself. He still goes a bit wild and can be taken down if timed, but on the whole, Santos has progressed incredibly in both areas. Plus, he can afford to make the occasional mistake; his opponent cannot.

In this match up, Santos has to put Branch on the defensive early. When Branch flurried Rockhold right at the bell, he did well. Once Rockhold stuck a jab in his face and began kicking the lead leg, Branch didn’t look quite so confident. Santos is far more devastating, and it should only take one hard kick to the body or big flurry of punches to keep his foe honest.

Bottom Line: This is likely to be a fun fight between fringe contenders.

The fun element of this fight is fully provided by Thiago Santos, who is underappreciated in that regard. To be frank, few beside Justin Gaethje can compete with the pure entertainment factor of “Marreta,” a man who repeatedly tries to kick through his opponents and quite often succeeds.

If Santos wins his fifth straight against his toughest foe yet, he deserves a top five opponent next.

As for Branch, he wants this fight as dull as possible, at least until a potential submission emerges. He’s definitely the better boxer, but there’s little doubt that Branch will be looking for the takedown to avoid those nasty kicks. If Branch successful stops the Brazilian’s rise, that’s a considerable accomplishment, and it should allow him to look up the ladder once more.

For either man, a loss hurts. Santos has built more momentum than ever in his current win streak, and a loss to Branch would really halt his progress. Meanwhile, Branch is just 1-1 in his current UFC run, so a second loss already would remove him even from fringe contender status until he can put some wins together.

At UFC Fight Night 128, David Branch and Thiago Santos will go to war. Which fighter will be able to impose his will?

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