Pop quiz: Name a current mixed martial arts fighter who holds title belts in two different weight classes.
If you said Conor McGregor, you’re sort of right and get partial credit. McGregor did hold the UFC featherweight and lightweight title simultaneously for a brief time, but has since relinquished (if you believe the UFC, which I don’t) the featherweight title. But there is another fighter who currently holds title belts in two weight classes.
If you Google “Current MMA fighters with two title belts,” David Branch’s name doesn’t come up at all. Which is unfortunate, because the World Series of Fighting middleweight and light heavyweight champion has lost only once in the last five-plus years. Branch won the WSOF middleweight title by submitting Jesse Taylor in the first round in 2014, and captured the light heavyweight title from Teddy Holder in 2015 – also by first-round submission.
Branch has successfully defend both belts in his last two fights, and he defends his middleweight title again on New Year’s Eve against Louis Taylor (13-3) at WSOF’s biggest card to date at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This fight will also be Branch’s third fight this year, which is even more impressive when you consider that Branch likely has to keep putting on and cutting weight as he alternates between competing at 185 and 205 pounds.
Weight cutting continues to be a controversial topic in MMA – the troubles experienced by fighters like the UFC’s Johny Hendricks when it comes to making weight is proof of that. While the WSOF isn’t subject to the ban on using IVs to put weight back on that UFC fighters are subject to, losing weight isn’t easy for anyone. Whether you’re a professional fighter or just a regular, everyday working stiff like me.
Although Branch shows no sign of slowing down at age 35 with two title belts around his waist, losing weight also gets tougher for everyone as they age. The fact Branch has the ability and discipline to bounce back and forth between weight classes with relative ease in a sport as demanding as MMA makes what he’s accomplished as a double champion all the more impressive, in my book.
Before you scoff at the quality of competition Branch faces in WSOF, consider that the organization is home to some of the most exciting fighters today, including its bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes, featherweight champion Lance Palmer and lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. WSOF is also home to proven veterans who have shown their mettle elsewhere, including Branch, WSOF welterweight champion Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and Yushin Okami.
In a MMA landscape that’s dominated by the UFC and is experiencing the ascent of Bellator MMA, it’s easy to forget that WSOF is in the mix too. But like the UFC, WSOF cards are shown on a major television network. The majority of their events are broadcast on NBC Sports Network, but their cards are also periodically shown on the actual NBC channel.
The WSOF New Year’s Eve card will actually be split between the two networks. Branch’s middleweight title defense will be the main event of the NBC Sports Network portion of the card, while the NBC portion of the card features Moraes, Gaethje and Fitch defending their titles.
Taylor is definitely no handpicked can for Branch to defeat, either. Taylor is also a veteran of multiple organizations like Strikeforce and Bellator. He has won his last five fights dating back to 2012, and has two submission victories in his first two WSOF fights, both by a guillotine choke.
WSOF’s light heavyweight division also features dangerous fighters like Holder, Vinny Magalhaes, Ronny Markes and Tyrone Spong. There are no easy fights for Branch as a titleholder in two divisions; so as he continues to hold two title belts simultaneously, he is always guaranteed to face some of the very best the WSOF has to offer.
Defending two title belts at the same time is no easy task. Although many a professional boxer often have multiple belts to their name, the sport of boxing is so diluted, corrupt and bloated that it’s hard to determine just how impressive that accomplishment is for those who compete in it. But in MMA, which combines boxing as well as multiple other disciplines, you have to be at your very best in every single fight or else you won’t last very long.
There’s a reason the list of fighters in MMA to hold title belts in two different weight classes has only consisted of McGregor, Randy Couture and B.J. Penn, with the latter two not holding those belts simultaneously. Those are three of the very best to ever step foot in the cage. It remains to be seen where Branch will rank among them when his career is all said and done. But for now, as a dual titleholder, Branch deserves more of our respect.
Photo Credit: Sherdog.com