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David Branch on UFC 230 changes: ‘Just give me my f*cking opponent’

David Branch has been around the sport of mixed martial arts long enough to know when a chain reaction of events is about to kick off.

The former two-division World Series of Fighting champion has competed professionally since 2007, so when one of his students walked into his Bronx gym a couple weeks ago and told him that Luke Rockhold had to drop out of his UFC 230 bout with Chris Weidman due to an injury, he had a gut feeling the ripple effect was probably going to cause a change to his scheduled fight with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

“I was teaching class actually the day that I found out,” Branch said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Just normal routine, going through, teaching my class and stuff like that. I think it was a beginner class, a beginner class was about to start and one of my students said, ‘Hey man, did you know that Luke Rockhold got hurt?’ And I said, oh, he did? Then I said ‘oh shit,’ and then ‘oh, man, I know what’s going to happen.’ And then I said, if I get to my phone and I get a call from my manager or one of my cornermen, then I know what happened.”

Indeed, it didn’t take much time for the UFC to put together a makeshift bout between Weidman and Souza, or for the UFC to line up a replacement so that Branch, a New York City native, could remain on the Madison Square Garden event. Branch has proven adaptable over the years, so when the UFC offered Jared Cannonier as new opponent, Branch didn’t hesitate.

“At this point in my life now, the things I’ve been through in MMA, just give me my f*cking opponent, give me my hand wraps and my gloves and let me go, and then get back to my family after I’m done taking care of my business,” Branch said.

Branch, who is 2-1 in during his UFC second stint, says he understands why the UFC chose the route they did in making the Weidman vs. Jacare fight. He’s clearheaded enough to know that the bout between former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champs makes sense from a divisional perspective.

“It just makes sense from a business point of view,” Branch said. “If I was a promoter, I’m going to want to keep on one of the people that my show was kind of pushing. They were kind of pushing the Luke Rockhold fight in conjunction with the [Daniel] Cormier and Derrick Lewis fight. I’d want to keep on one of those people that I kind of like co-main. And I guess they’re going to just boost up one of the others fighters that are closer up in that rank.”

There’s a sense of relief, too, because Branch considers fellow New Yorker Weidman a friend, and doesn’t want to compete against him unless he absolutely has to.

“I know him,” Branch said. “I like the guy, I don’t want to put those kind of negative intentions on somebody that I know. It’s a very difficult situation, it’s not something that I’m faced with right now and it’s not something I even want to get into. It’s not real right now and I’m glad that we’re not faced with that situation where it something that was just like, ‘Hey man, which one of you guys want it the most?’”

Branch also said that a personal phone call from UFC president Dana White helped persuade him to accept the bout.

“I actually got a phone call from Dana, he was nice enough to reach out to me himself,” Branch said. “He explained to me that, ‘It’s f*cked up, kid, and we’ll get you a f*cking fight. You do what you gotta do in this one, and we’ll get you in there with some killers that will move you forward,’ and I was just like ‘okay.’”

So now Branch will focus on Cannonier, a competitor who started his UFC career at heavyweight, dropped down to light heavyweight, and now will attempt his middleweight debut.

Cannonier has lost has past two bouts and three of his past four, but Branch doesn’t sound like a fighter who is looking past his foe.

“He’s a tough guy,” Branch said. “He’s a kickboxer, he’s got skills all over the place, like everybody needs to. I just think that technically-wise, I’m a lot better. I’m not saying that being arrogant or anything like that, that’s just what it is. I’m going to look to take advantage of that, start fast, and I have the conditioning to stay on top of this thing the whole time. I’m going to push the issue. In my fight with Jacare, that was one of my game plans. That is my game plan, to go out there and put the f*cking heat on everybody, just not let up. Just a wild creature you have to deal with as long as the time duration permits. And if you make it, you make it.”

After that? If all works out, Branch hopes to get that Souza fight once and for all.

“That would be the next appropriate bout to make, yes,” Branch said. “In my opinion it would be. But I don’t know, I’m not entitled to anything, and I don’t have any control of these things. But if they ask me what do you want that would be my answer and that would be what I want.”

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