Date: Sunday 17th September (3am UK)
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
Venue: PPG Paints Arena
As Michael Bisping has surged to stardom as the middleweight champion, milking his tenure, Rockhold has suffered. At UFC 199, he was due to fight Chris Weidman in a rematch after he impressively outclassed Weidman at UFC 194. Unfortunately, Weidman pulled out with an injury days before their rematch, which gave Bisping the opportunity for his shot at gold and seek vengeance after succumbing to Rockhold two years prior.
Left – Rockhold’s submission (2014) Right – Bisping’s KO (2016)
This win over Bisping was dominant and Rockhold looked in a different league, finishing the Brit with a guillotine which must have created complacency going into their rematch, as he was at the receiving end of a KO finish in the first round.
Rockhold has endured a tremendously difficult year after this humiliating loss. He has been kept on the sidelines with injuries as he has watched his arch nemesis soak up the spotlight with analyst roles and TV appearances as well as demanding super fights.
Enjoying his time – Bisping with the belt
Although fans have got used to observing the division progress without him with new contenders emerging, it would be foolish to write off the ex-champion. Rockhold arrived in the UFC as the Strikforce champion and up until earning the UFC middleweight championship he was finishing the best middleweights in the division for fun, including Weidman who was unbeaten at the time. He made elite level fighters look amateur, proving himself as one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world. He is now desperate to return to the cage and has settled to take the #9 ranked David Branch.
Although he will be the underdog, Branch will be a sizeable obstacle in Rockhold’s road back to the top. The 35-year-old is in the form of his life in riding an incredible 11-fight winning streak, and arrived back to the UFC as the WSOF middleweight and light heavyweight champion. Seven years ago he was released with a record of 2-2 under the UFC but has looked phenomenal since, which earned him a new contract and a fight against Krzysztof Jotko, which he went on to win via a decision at UFC 211.
Two division champion – Branch with his belts
In his journey back to the UFC, Branch has displayed an incredibly well-rounded skill set of his own. He is an intelligent and tactical fighter known for his masterful ground skills as a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which he compliments with nasty striking power, allowing him to throw bombs without the fear of being taken down. It is no surprise, then, that he finishes the majority of his fights. However, Rockhold is a natural finisher himself, with slick transitions from striking to wrestling to submissions, making him devastating in every area. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion in his own right and one of the best kickers in the UFC.
These ingredients make this an incredibly compelling match-up, with neither fighter deterred by the other’s strengths, fuelling an intensity and bad blood for this fight. After Branch didn’t take too kindly to Rockhold’s words in an interview doubting Branch’s confidence, he responded with a foul-mouthed video exclaiming; “I am going to beat you like you stole something”. Chilling words from the top contender and piling on the pressure for Rockhold, who wants to put an end to this bitter spell and fight his way back to another encounter with Bisping and prove his championship calibre.
See below for a statistical breakdown of this fight along with all other main card bouts:
*Reyes is likely to weigh in closer to 170lbs.
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Striking and grappling stats sourced via FightMetric.