David Branch was once one of the most dominant fighters in WSOF, a two-division champion who racked up a perfect 10-0 run during his five years with the promotion.
But Branch did not light the world afire in his reentry to the UFC. The 35-year-old Branch won a narrow split decision over Krzysztof Jotko in a grinding, slow-paced affair at UFC 211. The victory itself was enough for Branch to get rewarded with a headlining spot against former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold on Sept. 16 at UFC Fight Night 116, but Rockhold is not impressed by Branch’s game.
“Branch is a good fighter, I think he just questions himself,” Rockhold said this week on The MMA Hour. “You can’t question yourself at this level.
“I’m going to eat him up. I’m going to push him to that breaking point, and he’s going to feel the pressure. He can’t keep up with me. You can’t think you’re going to do something. You have to know. I see Branch, he questions himself. He’s good everywhere, he’s a third-degree black belt, he’s a decent boxer, but there’s questions in his head, and it’s time for me to go make those a little more doubtful as the rounds go on.”
The fight will mark Rockhold’s return to action following a 15-month stint on the sidelines.
Rockhold, 32, has not fought since losing his UFC title in stunning fashion with a first-round knockout loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 199. Since the loss, Rockhold has been a vocal critic of Bisping’s controversial championship reign, at one point even calling upon the UFC’s middleweights to stand their ground and not fight until an interim title was created. Rockhold made that call when it appeared that retired UFC welterweight Georges St-Pierre was slated to serve as Bisping’s second title defense.
Bisping vs. St-Pierre has since been through a roller-coaster of tentative cancellations and bookings, and although it appears the fight is now back on for November, Rockhold believes there is a chance it still doesn’t happen.
“It obviously doesn’t sit well,” Rockhold said when asked for his opinion on how things have played out. “We’ll see what happens. Nothing’s official until it’s official, so we’ll see. Who knows at this point? Georges has been for a long time.
“There’ll be a fight in November, we just don’t know who. You never know if it’s Georges. Who knows if Georges is going to make a fight? At this stage, all the things he’s been through, you can’t expect that he’s going to show up to that date. His body might fail, his mind might fail. There’s a lot of things you can question with Georges.
“I can only control what’s ahead of me, and that’s Sept. 16. I’m going to go do my job and put myself in line.”
After being out for so long, Rockhold said he was excited to finally get back to the Octagon. Though Branch wasn’t the opponent he expected, Rockhold said no one else in the middleweight top-10 was available to go in September, and he couldn’t wait any longer. And Rockhold is changing things up as well, starting his camp out in Florida to work with Henri Hooft rather than at his usual stomping grounds at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
“I’m starting things out here,” Rockhold said. “I think it’s nice to get a change and to mix things up. Always keep growing and keep learning. Things are a little stale back home, I have some family things and it’s nice to get away and just clear your head for a bit. So I’m going to start my camp out here, and maybe I’ll bounce back and finish off.
“A lot of guys (at AKA) are injured right now,” Rockhold added. “Cain is still injured and DC is obviously taking some time off, and some other guys are astray, I’d say. So, my relationship here with Henri Hooft and the team is good, everybody knows I’ve been training out here for quite some time, there’s a lot of good guys my size. So I’ve got to do what’s best for me right now, and Javier and Bob Cook and Cormier, they’re always going to be in my corner. So this just is what it is right now.”