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Brandon Thatch: The Finisher

"Everyone gets butterflies, but the key is making them work for you and not letting them dictate your mentality." - Brandon Thatch

UFC welterweight Brandon ThatchOn average, it takes Brandon Thatch 1:23 to win a fight. That’s not a number derived from a small sample size either.

Through the first 10 victories of his career, the 28-year-old Colorado native has yet to see the second round. In fact, he’s only been to the fourth minute of the opening round once, along with a single trip beyond the two-minute mark. Every other fight has ended faster than most fighters are able to get in rhythm and find their range.

That includes his UFC debut.

Back in August, Thatch arrived in the Octagon to square off with TUF alum Justin Edwards carrying a different kind of buzz than the kind that usually accompanies seemingly dominant fighters from the regional circuit when they first step into the bright lights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

While flashy records built against cannon fodder are easy to come by when combing through online databases and witnessing the arrival of a new name on biggest stage in the sport, Thatch’s resume is dotted with familiar and formidable names, all of whom have been turned away in what has become Thatch’s signature fashion.

Adding to the heightened intrigue surrounding the tall welterweight newcomer was the fact that he had the endorsement of the division’s reigning, defending, undisputed champion, Georges St-Pierre.

With the “GSP Seal of Approval” and a track record comprised solely of first-round stoppages, the bar was set pretty high for Thatch in his initial foray into the Octagon. While it would have been understandable if some combination of nerves, tougher competition, and the weight of being heralded as “one to watch” by one of the greatest of all-time resulted in a less compelling performance than his advanced billing suggested was coming, Thatch exceeded expectations, and added another dominant first-round finish to his resume.

“To win and get Knockout of the Night – it couldn’t have gone better,” said Thatch of his 1:23 victory over Edwards on the preliminary portion of the UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann fight card in Indianapolis earlier this year.

“It was definitely surreal. I definitely felt every emotion – from fear and anxiousness to happy and being ecstatic. Through the week, I was petrified, and then everything went so fast with the weigh ins – I felt like a rock star up there weighing in. After weigh ins, everything was so much fun.

“Everyone gets butterflies, but the key is making them work for you and not letting them dictate your mentality. As far as the week and everything, it went by so smooth and so quick that the nerves and butterflies are still there, but the week itself – the media, the filming, everything – went smooth, and it was pretty cool.”

In his post-fight interview with UFC Tonight correspondent Ariel Helwani, the man known as “Rukus” told the man with a mean shoe game that he didn’t want to spend the next year battling it out in the lower tier of the UFC’s deepest, most competitive division, and the organization was apparently listening.

For his sophomore appearance in the Octagon, Thatch has been paired with Brazilian veteran Paulo Thiago on the main card of the upcoming UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson fight card in Goiania, Brazil.

Though he sports just a 5-5 record in the UFC, Thiago has shared the cage with some of the division’s elite during his nearly five years with the organization. Like Thatch, the Brazilian Special Forces operative started his career with a Knockout of the Night award, announcing his presence in the division with an upset win over Josh Koscheck at UFC 95.

He recently rebounded from a 1-4 stretch that included losses to Martin Kampmann and Dong Hyun Kim with a decision win over Michel Prazeres in May, and represents the kind of step up in competition that Thatch was hoping for this time around.

“I’m not here to just kind of get by,” said Thatch, echoing the feelings he shared with Helwani following his debut victory. “I want to see where I stand, and that’s just me wanting to see who I am as a fighter. You want to see where you’re at and you want to test yourself. Everything is a test to see where you’re at, and this guy is going to give me another chance to see where I’m at in my skills. He’s a tough guy and it has got all the potential to be a good fight.

“I still feel like I’m a race car that has driven to 30mph really fast but I’ve had to turn off the engine – I still haven’t red-lined and I want to see how fast I can go.”

While he’s collected his share of highlight reel finishes and first-round stoppage victories, Thatch has yet to be a part of a the kind of back-and-forth battle that tantalizes fans and pushes an athlete to their physical and mental limits, and at some point, the rangy striker with the 10-1 record would like to know what that is like.

Just not yet.

“As a fighter, I’m a fan of the sport as well, and you see fights like the Diego Sanchez-Gilbert Melendez fight, and that right there – win or lose – both fighters came out victors there. It was some of the most amazing heart and pure aggression and excitement, and I would love to be known as part of a fight like that. To go home and know that I laid it all on the line, whether I win or I lose, the fans enjoyed what they saw and are going to remember that fight.

“But I’m going to take the first-round finish all day,” he added with a laugh. “I’ll take the first-round knockout all day, but if it goes to three rounds, I’m prepared. I’ve trained with a team that I feel is one of the best in the world, and I’m confident getting a unanimous decision or a first-round knockout.

“I’m not looking for the battles any time soon – I’d like to keep my body as intact as possible. It’s a rough sport on your body and I’d like to save my body for the championship fights, if I can make it that far down the road. I’d like to have some longevity to my career, so I’m not going to say that I’m looking for a brawl right away or anything like that. I know my time will come for a brawl, so I’m not in any hurry.”

While there are no guarantees about how his bout with the veteran Thiago will play out, there is one thing for certain about the matchup, and that is that Thatch will be walking into hostile territory, fighting a Brazilian on home soil in his first fight outside of North America.

Though it has been a situation that hasn’t played out too favorably for incoming fighters over the last couple years, Thatch is looking forward to the opportunity, as it will be the first time in his career that he’s entered the cage as “The Bad Guy,” a role he’s looking to exploring when he shares the Octagon with Thiago in Goiania on Saturday.

“I’ve had such amazing fans in Colorado and I’ve had a pretty decent following up in Canada – I’ve always kind of been a favorite – and I’m going to be the bad guy. I get to kind of play to those emotions, play that role.

“I’m not one of those guys that’s usually swayed by the crowd or being in a funky situation – I’m pretty mentally solid, mentally strong, and I feel like it’s just going to be one of those things that is going to make me more motivated.”

He’s also confident that another dynamic performance like the one he delivered in his debut will bring the Brazilian fans to their feet… even if he does turn back one of their own.

“I try not to over-analyze my fights. When you go in there with a strict game plan or you expect it to come out a certain way, that’s when things go wrong. If you’re expecting something to happen and it doesn’t – then what? I kind of just let it happen, and I think that’s why I have been so successful so far. I’m not looking for a knockout, I’m not looking for a choke, I’m not looking for anything – I kind of just react, and if there is an opening, I’m going to take it.

“I know Paulo is a veteran in the sport and he’s not afraid to fight, so I know I need to be prepared, know that I’m not slipping or taking him lightly, and so it’s going to be fun. I’m not expecting anything – I’m just going to go out there and perform and do what I do best.

“I get to be the bad guy, and after I come out on top, I’m going to bow to the crowd like I do every time and I’m going to have made some fans down there.”