A throwdown worthy of the Steel City will take place in the city of Pittsburgh on Saturday, Sept. 16, when we bear witness to the latest edition of UFC Fight Night. The main event of this particular card features a middleweight bout between a former champion seeking redemption and another former champion looking to make a name for himself on the mixed martial arts world’s biggest stage.
Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold will face David Branch, who held the middleweight and light heavyweight titles simultaneously in the since-rebranded World Series of Fighting. The winner of this fight will likely be on the shortlist of contenders to the UFC middleweight title, and Rockhold is surely hoping to win this bout and receive a rubber match against his longtime rival, current UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
Strengths: Rockhold’s strengths are many and varied. He’s connected on nearly half of his strikes so far in his career, and lands 40 percent of his takedown attempts. So he’s just as likely to finish his opponent standing as he is to pound it out on the mat or get a submission. Rockhold also defends 60 percent of strikes thrown his ways and stuffs nearly 70 percent of any takedowns that are attempted against him.
As stated above, Rockhold is a former champion. He trains at American Kickboxing Academy with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, so he comes into every fight as battle-tested as they come. Of Rockhold’s 15 total victories, 13 have come via a knockout or submission. He has already defeated the likes of Bisping, Lyoto Machida, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy.
Weaknesses: What are Rockhold’s weaknesses? Not many, to be honest. He’s only lost three times in his career, but his last fight was a loss to the current champion Bisping, which cost Rockhold his title. It was discovered after the fight that Rockhold was competing with a knee injury, so it’s possible that contributed to the upset win by “The Count.” It might also be possible that Rockhold come into that fight a little overconfident, given his obvious disdain for Bisping and the probable belief that he was going to walk through Bisping like he did during their first meeting. If Rockhold wants to avoid another upset at the hands of Branch, he must humble himself and focus completely on the task at hand.
Rockhold has also only gone the distance twice in his career, against Souza and Kennedy. Both guys are Rockhold’s equal in terms of toughness, and Branch is no slouch either. The former double champion in WSOF must be able to take Rockhold into deep water and grind him out to have any chance at winning.
Strengths: As I’ve stated multiple times, Branch held two titles at the same time in WSOF. Scoff all you want at the overall quality of the WSOF product, but defending title belts in two weight classes is not easy, no matter which promotion you fight for. Branch’s last loss came five years to the former UFC light heavyweight Anthony Johnson. So Branch’s talent should not be in question, at all.
Like Rockhold, Branch also splits his finishes almost evenly between knockouts and submissions. He’s equally versed in the stand-up and ground game, and also boasts ample experience going the distance in his fights – a distinct advantage he has over Rockhold in terms of being able to grind out tough victories against tough opponents.
Weaknesses: Even though I believe Branch faced fine competition in WSOF, it still wasn’t the UFC. That’s where the best of the best in MMA go to ply their trade, and Branch will find himself in a brand new league of competition. Although Branch previously competed in the UFC in 2010-11, this is a brand new promotion than the one he used to fight for. Rockhold is among the elite middleweights in the world and has among the most diverse skillset around – is Branch up to the task?
I’m giving Branch a better shot than I think most people are. Rockhold is among the best of the best around, but Branch is just a tough guy. It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s true. He has no qualms about standing in front of you and throwing down, or knocking you off-balance with some jiu-jitsu and wrestling. If Branch can last through the early rounds, I think he has a chance to take advantage of a tired Rockhold, who doesn’t have as much experience going the distance in his career.
However, Rockhold is who he is for a reason. He’s one of the more dangerous fighters around that people don’t normally think of. Plus, he’s supremely motivated to get his title back, and is supremely pissed off with a huge chip on his shoulder. That’s a dangerous combination, and I think one that is too much for Branch to overcome.
Winner: Rockhold by TKO
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