“My style is naturally a style for finishing fights. I’m a finisher - I’ve been a finisher in jiu-jitsu competitions, and a finisher in anything that I’ve done."
David Branch and Sechew Powell are brothers. One is a UFC middleweight, the other is the number one contender for boxing’s junior middleweight title. Branch soared into the biggest organization in mixed martial arts after just six pro fights. Powell, 26-2, has taken the long road to the top, and after seeing his brother go 1-1 in his first two Octagon bouts, he’s teaching him a little bit about patience.
“When I first came into the UFC, I was kinda feeling myself a little bit,” Branch, 29, admits. “But I learned to be humble and to be patient and to just take it one step at a time. In each fight, I need to show improvement, and eventually, my technical superiority over my opponents will hopefully show the UFC that this guy is something else and we need to do something with this guy.”
But the .500 record doesn’t tell the whole story of Branch and his place in the 185-pound pecking order. After running off six wins and six finishes, the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt got the call to the UFC and made highlight reels everywhere in his debut against Gerald Harris. Unfortunately, it was for a reason he’d like to forget, as he was slammed to the mat by the “Hurricane” and knocked out in the third round. Chalk it up to experience.
“The first one, I got a taste of seeing what the UFC was really about and how I need to prepare myself for the fights at this level and the changes I need to make as far as preparation and the way I live and just being more of a professional,” said Branch, who was brought back just a little over two months later to take on tough Tomasz Drwal, who, with three wins in his five Octagon outings, dwarfed him in experience. But in the Drwal bout, Branch showed that he belonged on the world-class level as he scored a three round unanimous decision win.
Good stuff, right? Wrong, as the fight was far from a barnburner, with boos raining down on the competitors for much of the 15 minute bout.
In breaking it down, Branch says that “The second fight was taking what I had learned from the first fight and changing the way I do things as far as preparation, and adding gameplans and strategy. I think Drwal definitely was a real tough guy, and I beat him, I completely shut him down.”
But there’s more, as some of that trademark Brooklyn bluntness doesn’t allow Branch to change the subject without fully explaining himself.
“To be honest, the second fight was just me getting over a bad loss,” he said. “I had never lost before and a lot of guys were saying ‘oh, that fight was boring,’ but the guy I fought, Drwal, was an extremely tough and strong dude, and he had a very negative style. Not to say anything bad about him, he’s an extremely tough fighter and very experienced, but he can make anybody look ugly. Sometimes you get a guy you fight against and it just doesn’t end up being a very positive fight to where one guy gets to shine. He was very non-cooperative with everything that I did, so it was very hard for me to do things that I normally can do, and I was still a little hesitant about doing things because of the way I lost the last time, so I was still getting over that thing.”
When you’ve walked through everyone in your path and then suffer a knockout loss, it’s often a crushing blow to your ego and to your motivation. The attacking style you had before sometimes disappears, and you’re never the same fighter again. But three rounds with the heavy-handed Drwal showed Branch that he still belongs here and that he can take whatever his opponents can dish out. As for the boos, he says, “I think there was a lot of hype and stuff like that around me because of the way I was finishing guys in the past, and in a way, I’m happy that people expecting so much from me, but I guess people had such high expectations that they expect me to win in such a dominant fashion, and they don’t take in all the factors that happened during that process and before I fought Drwal.”
Luckily, in this sport, you’re only as good as your last fight, and the Drwal bout steeled Branch for what’s ahead, and that’s a Saturday bout against American Top Team’s Rich Attonito where he expects to get back to what brought him to the UFC in the first place.
“My style is naturally a style for finishing fights,” he said. “I’m a finisher - I’ve been a finisher in jiu-jitsu competitions, and a finisher in anything that I’ve done. Whenever I played basketball I was always a finisher, I always looked to score. So I naturally have a style that’s aggressive, and if I have the opportunity open or if I can create an opportunity, I’m gonna take it. My record speaks for itself. If you look what I’ve done in my fight career, it shows that I’m looking to finish fights. I’m not out there trying to play around with guys. I don’t want a guy coming back after I hurt him and then he beats me. I want to get guys out of there.”
With four wins in a row and back-to-back bouts against Rafael Natal and Jamie Yager that have shown off his attacking style, you can bet that Attonito will be a willing foil in this battle of middleweight prospects. And given the matchup of styles on the feet (stick and move vs aggression forward motion) and the ground (jiu-jitsu vs wrestling), this is the perfect fight to kick off the preliminary portion of the TUF12 finale card. As for his choice of real estate to fight on, Branch expects to keep it standing.
“I definitely think I have the edge on him as far as the standup goes,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie to you, I think that Rich’s standup is good, and he might be one of the best guys I fought as far as standup. But I definitely think that I have the physical advantages because I have a 79 ½ inch reach. And me and my coaches definitely plan to use that as a tool against Rich.”
And his brother has also given him a few pointers on making the most of his standup gifts on fight night.
“Sechew has seen me spar and he knows what I can do,” said Branch. “Because I’m a black belt in jiu-jitsu, it’s more natural for me to take guys down and finish them with submissions or to ground and pound them. But Sechew told me ‘you’ve got power in your hands,’ so he always corrects little mistakes and always tells me to stop bouncing around and to sit down on my punches, wait, and look for the contact. He says that when this guy comes running out, look and know that you’re gonna place three punches – two on the left side of his face, one on the right side, and know that you’re gonna touch that chin.”
If that happens, maybe, just maybe, it will be Branch on the other side of the highlight reel. But even if that’s not the case, the New Yorker wants people to know that the third time should be the charm when it comes to making a first impression.
“Hopefully after this fight, people can look at me and be like ‘man, this guy really is the real deal,’” he said.