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Brandon Thatch on long injury layoff: 'I felt like a border collie that was stuck in a cage'

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Guilherme Cruz

In a span of four months, Brandon Thatch became one of the hottest up-and-coming fighters to watch in the UFC.

Thatch went through Justin Edwards like a shredder and then destroyed popular veteran Paulo Thiago, making it look easy. Both finishes came within the first round and everyone wanted to know what was next for the electric, exciting striker.

We haven't seen Thatch since.

That was back in 2013. The only opponent Thatch has taken on in 15 months has been his own rehab processes. When Thatch takes on Benson Henderson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 60 on Feb. 14 in Broomfield, Colo., he'll do so in a cage. But he'll feel like he's being let out of one.

"Any time you get hurt, it's bad," Thatch told MMAFighting.com. "It's more mental than anything. The pain sucks. Everything about being hurt sucks, but it's more or less just being bored. I felt like a border collie that was stuck in a cage all day."

Thatch could have been one of the breakout performers in MMA last year. But he needed to take care of some lingering injuries in his shoulder and ankle. Thatch needed surgery on both. Then, just as he was set to come back as a late fill-in against Jordan Mein in August, Thatch broke his toe.

It was a compound fracture -- and a serious setback. Thatch could not go back to training for 10 weeks after surgery. The rehabilitation process was not fun.

"I was in tears," Thatch said. "It was terrible. It was a lot of build-up to be let down and let down in a serious way. It wasn't just a sickness or staph infection or something like that. It put me out for awhile. It just meant starting over from scratch, everything started back over."

It's obvious the UFC hasn't forgotten about him, because he is getting to main event a card about a half hour away from his native Denver. Thatch has had some fortune there. The initial headliner for UFC Fight Night 60 was supposed to be Matt Brown vs. Tarec Saffiedine. But Saffiedine got hurt and eventually the UFC pulled Brown from the card altogether. Brown now takes on Johny Hendricks at UFC 185 on March 13 in Dallas.

When Brown was removed, a bout between Thatch and Stephen Thompson slid into the main event spot. Until Thompson also got injured. On Jan. 31, it was announced Henderson, the former UFC lightweight champion, would move up to welterweight and meet Thatch in the headlining bout.

It was a massive opportunity for Thatch before; now it's a potentially star-making one against a fighter who has held a belt and been in the main event of pay-per-views. But the 29-year-old is not putting any more pressure on himself.

"I know no matter where I fight on a card that people are going to enjoy watching me and I'm gonna be an exciting," Thatch said. "This could be an undercard and I guarantee people will still take notice of me."

Thatch (11-1) does have that kind of fighting style, the one in which you wonder if he's going into the Octagon with his car double-parked outside the arena. Then again, in Broomfield it would just be a quick drive in an Uber.

"Being in my backyard, I feel unstoppable," Thatch said. "The energy I get from the crowd is electrifying. If you or somebody is there, you'll feel it."

Thatch, who trains at Team Elevation in Denver, might have lost more than a year of his prime. But all the emotion of being unable to compete is gone. Thatch is back to being focused on the task at hand. And beating Henderson would allow him to make a leap that most people wouldn't be able to. Thatch knows where he'll be eventually.

"I will be in the top 10 absolutely," Thatch said. "I don't see any way around that. I'm going to keep winning in impressive manner and I'll climb the ranks."