David Branch made up for lost time, even if his return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship was not as aesthetically pleasing as he had hoped.
The former two-division World Series of Fighting champion eked out a split decision over American Top Team’s Krzysztof Jotko in a three-round middleweight showcase at UFC 211 “Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2” on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. A +145 underdog according to BetDSI.com, Branch was awarded 29-28 marks from judges Aladin Martinez and Jeff Mullen.
The loss snapped a five-fight winning streak for Jotko (-175), who entered the cage on the strength of consecutive victories over Tor Troeng, Scott Askham, Bradley Scott, Tamdan McCrory and Thales Leites. Branch executed a pair of takedowns, grinded away in the clinch and outstruck the Pole in all three rounds. The 35-year-old Renzo Gracie protégé had not fought in the UFC in 2,263 days.
“It feels good to be back in the UFC, but I wasn’t satisfied with my performance,” Branch said. “I would have liked to connect more with him. He was an awkward lefty, [and] he was a lot harder to control on the ground. We planned to soften him up with the boxing and then take him down and pound him out. I wanted to make him turn his back and choke him out.”
Emotions were a factor for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
“It was my first fight back on the pay-per-view portion of a big event, and I was shaking some of that Octagon stuff off,” Branch said. “I’ll be back better, and this time, I wasn’t satisfied with my performance. I don’t want to be judged by that performance. I can do a whole lot better than that, and I will.”
Meanwhile, Enrique Barzola was the only other underdog to author an upset at the event, as he took a unanimous verdict from Gabriel Benitez (-145) in a three-round undercard battle at 145 pounds. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Barzola, who improved to 3-1 in the UFC.
Benitez tried and failed to crack the Peruvian’s considerable resolve with sharp straight left hands to the head and punishing kicks to the leg and body. Barzola (+115) offset those efforts with takedowns, ground-and-pound and positional control -- a recipe that allowed him to wear down the 28-year-old American Kickboxing Academy rep over the course of their 15-minute confrontation.
“I’m really happy for this win,” Barzola said. “It’s a big step in my career, and I’m proud of bringing this victory to my fans and to my country. I had a lot of support from Latin American fans, and I want to dedicate this win to them. Gabriel was a really tough opponent. He was well-prepared, but I gave all my heart to win. Now I’m going back home, but I will be ready to put on a show for the fans again soon.”