David Branch left the comfort and familiarity of the World Series of Fighting nest in pursuit of bigger prey in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He will soon know if the decision was wise.
The former two-division WSOF champion takes on Luke Rockhold in the UFC Fight Night 116 main event this Saturday at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, where a win could propel him into title contention at 185 pounds. Branch, 35, will carry a career-best 11-fight winning streak into the match but will do so as a significant underdog. He made his long-awaited return to the Octagon at UFC 211 on May 13, when he escaped with a three-round split decision over American Top Team’s Krzysztof Jotko. Branch’s climb grows much steeper against Rockhold, a onetime Strikeforce and UFC champion who figures to be in a foul mood following his upset loss to Michael Bisping in June 2016.
Ahead of Branch’s high-stakes clash with Rockhold, here are five things you might not know about him:
1. He has close ties to boxing.
Branch is the younger brother of former junior middleweight contender Sechew Powell and undefeated super welterweight Jamelle Hamilton. A national Golden Gloves champion in 2000, Powell owns a 26-6 professional record that includes victories over Cornelius Bundrage, Ishe Smith and Deandre Latimore.
2. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he has optimized his grappling skills in MMA.
The Renzo Gracie protégé has delivered seven of his 21 career wins by submission: five by rear-naked choke, one by brabo choke and one by shoulder choke. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 25 winner Jesse Taylor, Strikeforce veteran Louis Taylor and Bellator MMA alum Derek Mehmen were among the victims.
3. Opponents have trouble finding him.
Branch absorbs just 0.87 strikes per minute in the UFC, according to FightMetric. He ranks first on the promotion’s all-time list in the category, ahead of Pete Spratt (1.04), Ivan Salaverry (1.15), Mirsad Bektic (1.17), Jon Madsen (1.18), Julianna Pena (1.20), Renato Sobral (1.25), Matt Lindland (1.31), Ricco Rodriguez (1.31) and Chael Sonnen (1.32).
4. Adversities have been few and far between.
When he climbs into the cage to face Rockhold, Branch will have gone five years, three months and 22 days since his last loss -- a unanimous decision defeat to Anthony Johnson under the Titan Fighting Championship banner.
5. He often dictates the terms of engagement.
Branch has executed at least one takedown in four of his five Ultimate Fighting Championship appearances. He recorded four of them against Rich Attonito, three against Tomasz Drwal, two against Jotko and one against Rousimar Palhares. Branch has gone 3-1 in those bouts, losing only to Palhares.