MMA Record: 17-5
UFC Record: 9-3
Notable Wins: Jack Hermansson, Anthony Smith
Notable Losses: Gegard Mousasi, Uriah Hall
Last Fight: TKO win over Anthony Smith
Fighter Profile: Santos came into the UFC with little fanfare after losing on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil but has really turned it on in the Octagon and has transformed himself into a top contender. The Brazilian has won his last four-straight fights via brutal knockout to emerge as one of the sport’s most devastating strikers. His ground game is still a work in progress but anytime he can keep a fight on the feet he will have a legitimate chance of knocking his opponent out. Santos is looking to break into the top-10 and the top-5 of the middleweight division, and win over Branch would put him in line for a huge fight against a top title contender.
MMA Record: 21-4
UFC Record: 3-3
Notable Wins: Krzystof Jotko, Yushin Okami, Vinny Magalhaes
Notable Losses: Luke Rockhold, Rousimar Palhares, Anthony Johnson
Last Fight: Submission loss to Luke Rockhold
Fighter Profile: Branch was a two-division champion in WSOF and earned his way back to the UFC when that promotion collapsed. He defeated Jotko in his return to the Octagon in an upset, but lost by submission via strikes to Rockhold in his next bout. That was a disappointing loss for Branch, particualrly after seeing how badly Rockhold lost his last fight. Branch is mostly known for his ground game and he has legitimate submissions on the ground, but I’m still not convinced he has the striking to go to the top in this division. A win over Santos would surely silence the critics, but a loss might send Branch packing from the UFC for a second time.
Fight Breakdown: This is a pretty interesting fight that is going to end in either one of two ways. Either Santos lands the knockout blow on Branch like he has been doing lately, or Branch gets this fight down to the mat and taps Santos out. I tend to lean towards the former. I just feel like Santos is fighting with so much momentum and confidence right now, and I feel like he’s so much more improved than the guy who got tapped out by Cezar Ferreira in his UFC debut. Santos’ striking is extremely powerful and none of his last four opponents have been able to survive against him. Branch has a really good ground game but I’m not convinced he has the striking to be able to stay on the feet with Santos. I wouldn’t totally be shocked if Branch got this fight to the ground, but more times than not I see this fight staying on the feet, where I believe Santos will land another big knockout.
Prediction: Thiago Santos via KO