But what separates the people inside the cage from everyone else in the arena is the ability to look at clips like Romero’s finish of Rockhold and decide you want to face that fighter anyway.
And Branch would know — Branch was scheduled to fight Romero in February, only to have it fall out when Romero got the nod to fight Rockhold as a replacement for middleweight champ Robert Whittaker. And nothing that happened in that fight did anything to dissuade Branch of the idea of crossing paths with Romero somewhere down the road.
“I know what the guy is capable of,” Branch said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “That’s what he’s capable of doing to people. He can go in there and beat the living hell out of people, and it looks really friggin’ scary, right? It does. Okay, yeah. You gotta understand that, if that’s what you want to do and that’s the kind of competition you have to go against.”
Branch says it’s not a matter of being fearless, but rather, acknowledging your fears and working with them.
“If you see somebody like that, and it makes you nervous, that’s human energy, you know?” Branch said. “You’re going to get nervous with something like that. But if it’s a part of you that wants to go against the wave like that, then that’s the part of you that’s a warrior and you have to respond to that, you know? That’s the part of that that lets you know you’re alive. And if you’re in this business, I’m just speaking as a fighter, if you’re in this business, you understand what we’re talking about. You answer the bell.”
For his part, Branch answered the bell in his UFC Atlantic City bout against Thiago Santos. The heavy-hitting Santos came into the bout on a hot streak, but Branch stopped him cold with a first-round knockout that earned Branch a Performance of the Night bonus. It also got the former simultaneous two-division World Series of Fighting champ back in the win column following a loss to Rockhold.
“I just felt good to get my job done and that was it, you know? I didn’t take any pleasure in doing that to him as a human being,” Branch said. “He’s out there trying to get it done like me, too, you know? And that’s it. We just, we settled our differences already.
“The pressure that comes with that, obviously, you’re talking about coming off of a loss, you want to redeem that,” Branch added. “And I’m glad it was able to be done in that kind of fashion against that kind of opponent. He’s a dangerous dude.”
The win over Santos showed that those who may have written Branch off following his loss to Rockhold did so too soon.
As for what’s next, it’s likely not going to be a re-booking of the Romero fight, since Romero is currently scheduled to face Whittaker at UFC 224. But that doesn’t mean Branch would pass up the opportunity to test himself against Romero should the opportunity arise.
“He’s a savage, you know?” Branch said. “I want to test myself against the best peoples, and at the time he’s the person that I chose to fight. ... Robert Whittker got hurt, and he’s in a position where he got to go up above, and I respect it. And everything happens for a reason, I guess? I’m here right now.”