Growing up, Brownsville native David Branch didn’t envision that he’d become one of the upper echelon mixed martial artists in the world.
Probably because he couldn’t.
The eighth-ranked UFC middleweight grew up in a time when MMA was an obscure trade little known outside of the United States until the Gracie Family brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu over to and formed the UFC in 1993.
Branch, a 36-year-old black belt who trained under Renzo Gracie, was enamored with the sport as a youth, and wanted to use it to change his life.
“I was programmed, just like how other young boys are programmed for either war, conflict or breaking the law,” recalled Branch, who also owns the David Branch Jiu-Jitsu in New Jersey. “If you look at the conglomeration of different cartoons – G.I Joe’s, Thundercats, SilverHawks – everything was fighting.
“In the 1980’s, the programming was to prime young males for war, and I didn’t go that route so I ended up fighting,” he added.
Currently, Branch’s career record is 21-4 on his second UFC run. The 6-foot-1 contender debuted in MMA in September 2007, three days after his 26th birthday, despite having no amateur experience.
After six straight victories to begin his career, Branch’s UFC debut came in July 2010, and after going 2-2, he was released by the promotion.
He then became a staple in the World Series of Fighting, winning the promotion’s inaugural Middleweight on Light Heavyweight titles, successfully defending each title before re-joining the UFC early in 2017, where he’s since gone 1-1 after amassing an 11-0 record in WSOF.
Still, the Brooklyn resident says that under a “correct” mind-state, he probably would’ve gone a different path as opposed to fighting professionally, which he calls ego-driven.
“Watching Ben 10 movies, karate movies, it’s just this constant bombardment of the same bulls---,” he told BQE Media this past Saturday. “This is probably one of the reasons subconsciously why I wanted to do these things.
“This is what most fighters are, they’re ego driven,” he continued. “Why else would you want to be the best in the world at something?”
Branch’s pursuit is to be UFC Champion, which in theory would make him the world’s best middleweight. However, the desire to achieve a title is twofold.
On one hand, he wants to see it through. That “it” being the MMA career he embarked on 11 years ago. On the flip side, being champion opens doors that lead to financial gain and a better future for him, his friends and family.
But in the same breath, the man with two sons says he would not recommend any kid follow this same path.
“Why would I want them to do such a thing? I’d rather them get real jobs and have longevity in something they could actually enjoy without getting hurt,” he said candidly. “I’d want them to be involved in endeavors from a promoter’s point of view or an organization’s point of view, where they’re always going to win.
“For me, I didn’t graduate from any college, so my options were a little slim,” he added. “I came from being a construction worker. I’ve never had a job in my entire life that wasn’t dangerous, so I was already primed for these things.”
Perhaps encouraging kids to fight doesn’t appeal to Branch, but being impactful in the black community does.
In a perfect world, the job that Branch wants to see through will lead him to pioneer status along with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Marvin Eastman, famed UFC standouts before him who help set the bar for black people in the sport.
Although Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley and Demetrious Johnson are UFC champions, there hasn’t been a strong a black presence in UFC like in the world of boxing.
With a deep sigh and a chuckle, Branch says the reason we don’t see more black fighters is just MMA’s culture right now.
“I’d like to be one of those guys that lays down a smooth road for fighters who are like me,” he said. They can do it, and why? Because they’ve seen somebody come from a very similar situation that’s done it.”
His next fight will be at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City against Thiago Santos on Fox Sports 1’s UFC Fight Night 128 card this coming Saturday. Branch last fought on September 16, 2017, losing to Luke Rockhold, who lost a UFC Interim Middleweight Title bout against Yoel Romero this past February.
Branch is confident that he’ll defeat Santos, the UFC’s 11th ranked middleweight, and continue climbing the ladder.
“I do feel that I’m going to beat this man,” he said. “My skill set and my determination and the way that I’m going to come at this situation will be enough to secure the victory in dominant fashion.”