With his return from an over 15-month layoff due to injury finally approaching, Brandon Thatch could be living proof that things happen for a reason. Just 2-0 in the UFC, the rising welterweight star is coming back in a main event bout against a former world champion in Benson Henderson this Saturday, and he’s doing it in his home state of Colorado.
“I wish that was the case,” he laughs, happy to be back, but not looking at his time away as anything but lost time.
“At the time when I was injured, I don’t think there really was anything I could have said to make me feel good about the situation, but you’ve got to just trust in your path and keep focusing on the direction that you’re going,” Thatch said. “You have to keep focusing on your goals, regardless of if you’re injured or not, stay motivated and do anything you can to progress. That’s all I did. The time off was terrible, but the payout of having a main event in my hometown couldn’t be more exciting for me. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and I feel bad for the guy that got hurt (Saffiedine), but at the same time I’m very excited to be the main event in Colorado.”
Former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine initially had the main event slot in Broomfield against fellow welterweight contender Matt Brown, but was forced from the bout due to injury. Thatch was bumped from the co-main event spot to headliner status in a highly-anticipated striker vs. striker battle against Stephen Thompson, but when “Wonderboy” was bitten by the injury bug as well, former lightweight boss Henderson jumped in to make his 170-pound debut against a fighter undisturbed by any of the musical chairs. Bottom line, he’s getting to fight again, and it could be Cain Velasquez across from him on Saturday night and he wouldn’t care.
“I’m excited for every fight I’m in,” he said. “I don’t try to look too far ahead of myself or focus just on my opponent; I’m excited to go out and perform, no matter who it is. Sometimes if you fight a lower-caliber fighter, it can be a little more sloppy if he’s sloppy, and I really feel that when you fight a high-caliber opponent, we will bring the best out of each other.”
Henderson is certainly high-caliber, though the MMA world will be focusing on how he looks in his new weight class. That puts Thatch under the microscope even more, but when the spotlight is brightest, that’s when “Rukus” likes to perform the most.
A standout on the regional scene for years, Thatch got his call to the big show in August of 2013 and took just 83 seconds to dispatch Justin Edwards. Less than three months later, Paulo Thiago suffered the same fate, getting stopped in a little over two minutes. The wins improved Thatch’s pro record to 11-1, with all 11 victories coming by knockout or submission, all in the first round.
The fast start to his UFC career earned him UFC.com’s Top Newcomer of 2013 award over such notables as Conor McGregor, Kelvin Gastelum and teammate Cat Zingano, but injuries kept him on the shelf. Finally, he got the green light to resume training and take a fight, and while he’s not avoiding black cats or walking under ladders, he is more careful in the gym these days.
“No superstitions or anything like that, but I’m definitely more cautious in my training,” he said. “I take steps to make sure I don’t get injured, and I’m a little bit more prepared and careful in my training.”
And in an odd turn, while most fighters get forgotten by the fans after an extended layoff, Thatch has not lost his appeal to the masses, with the announcement of his return a welcome one to those who enjoy his particular brand of mayhem in the Octagon.
“There are hard days in MMA,” he said. “Being hurt, being injured, getting up and training and having rough days is part of the game and it’s terrible and something you have to go through. But I’m reminded on a daily basis how awesome my fans are. It really gives me the motivation to do what I do, and every time I get a nice comment on Twitter or Facebook, or somebody in my hometown tells me how excited that they are for me to fight, it motivates me and makes me fight for them. I’m very blessed with the fans and family and teammates that I have, and I couldn’t be more excited to perform for them.”
He’ll get five rounds’ worth with the durable and experienced Henderson, and though the odds of Thatch vs. Thompson hitting the mat were slim and none, there is a good possibility that the Denver native might have to show off his ground game against Henderson. And that’s fine with him.
“The sport is MMA,” Thatch, who has three submission victories, said. “It’s not kickboxing with MMA gloves on, so where the fight goes it will go and I’m prepared in all aspects for this fight.”
Thatch is also prepared to put the last 15 months far in his rear view mirror and get back to the business of fighting – a lot.
“I think any fighter wants to get as many fights in as possible in a year, but it’s just staying healthy,” he said of his plans for 2015. “There are fights where I’ve smoked a cat in under a minute and I’m still injured from the fight camp. It’s hard to stay healthy, and it’s not always the fights that you get injured in. This is a rough sport. But I definitely feel the pressure to turn it up and I really feel that 2015 is gonna be my year. I’m not necessarily looking for anything in particular, but I want to stay busy, I want to stay healthy, and I want to perform to my best ability, make people excited and have them remember me.”