When most folks say they were born to do something, it’s usually just a catchy conversation starter. When unbeaten middleweight prospect David Branch says it, it couldn’t be more accurate.
The brother of top junior middleweight boxing contender Sechew Powell and former New York Golden Gloves champion Jamelle Hamilton, Branch certainly has a fighting bloodline. But when you also consider that he currently resides in the same Brownsville, Brooklyn neighborhood that was home to Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and Shannon Briggs, it’s just too much fate in one batch for the 28-year old. Jeez, he even spent time in the same Tryon State School for Boys that housed the young ‘Iron Mike’.
“I think I come from that kind of bloodline, so when I said that I really meant it,” he laughs.
But like anything, the story of David Branch isn’t as cut and dried as that. The Bronx native wasn’t born with gloves on his hands; in fact, his life was headed in a less than positive direction early on, and he spent time behind bars for various infractions over the space of five years.
Eventually, Branch started to fly straight – at least as far as the legal system was concerned – when he began working as a union ironworker for Local 580, but partying was still on the agenda.
“I was living check to check and blowing all my money,” he admits. “I wasn’t saving anything, I was getting into trouble, drinking, destroying my mind, destroying my body, and I just didn’t feel good about myself.”
After work one day, the 21-year old was about to commence with business as usual, but this day at 152nd Street and Crotona Avenue was going to be different.
“I got a few cheap beers, was stopping to get something to eat, and some crackhead was selling videotapes. He said ‘I’ll sell you five tapes for two, three dollars.’”
One of them was a UFC 3 tape.
“It was all beat up and used,” said Branch. “I said ‘I don’t want the rest of your tapes. Why don’t you give me that one, and I’ll give you three dollars for that one.’ I took the tape home and I watched it and I saw Royce Gracie messing people up.”
That was it – game, set, match.
“I said, ‘I want to do this. This is something I want to do, something I need to do.’ It was just my calling. This is in me, and I gotta seek it out.”
Seven years later, he’s about to step into the same Octagon where Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Keith Hackney, Kimo Leopoldo, and Steve Jennum competed in on that September night in 1994. But it wasn’t that simple; not by a long shot.
First, Branch had to find a school, and he ended up at the Five Rings Centers in Brooklyn. After three years, he returned to the Bronx to study at a Relson Gracie satellite school, and then his journey truly began.
“I won my first tournament, then the next two, and I just kept on winning. I got a few silver medals, but I was winning the majority of the tournaments.”
He also kicked all his bad habits, and in the process, began reaching a plateau in his training.
“Renzo’s cousin Relson suggested that I go to Renzo’s in the city because I was hitting a growth spurt,” said Branch. “Relson said, ‘I don’t want you training with any other family than the Gracie family.’”
At the time, Renzo Gracie was preparing for his 2005 fight with BJ Penn. When he returned, he welcomed his new student to the school. Then, Branch says, “my game shot right through the roof.”
“Renzo’s really one of the guys who helped me believe in myself,” adds Branch. “He noticed my potential a long time ago, he took it when it was like a small plant, and he nursed it into a mighty oak tree, and now it’s starting to bear fruit.”
Among other accolades, Branch earned his BJJ black belt from Gracie and also won three Pan-Am game championships. In September of 2007, he entered the world of pro MMA with a first round TKO of Craig Simone, and his next five fights have ended in similar fashion – with Branch victorious before the final bell tolled.
So he’s got the bloodline, the team, the black belt, and the finishing ability. Will that translate into victory this Saturday night against rising star Gerald “Hurricane” Harris? Well, you know Branch’s answer to that one.
“He (Harris) is a really strong guy,” said Branch (6-0). “I think he does make some mistakes, and some of those mistakes that he makes, he makes up for in brute strength. The guy’s really strong, and he’s gonna try to come in there and try to run roughshod on you. If you let him go in there and beat up on you, that’s what he’s gonna do. I’m not knocking the guy, but he’s not gonna do that to me. I don’t think he’s ever faced an opponent like me. I’m sure that I’m not the first person to say that, but I think that he’s gonna know that, and at the end of this, he’s gonna respect me.”
And if anything, when David Branch steps into the Octagon for the first time this weekend, armed with memories of walking where Royce Gracie walked and of representing himself, his family, and his team to the fullest, he will do so with no pressure and with his head held high because he’s been to the bottom, he’s survived the streets, and after all that, fighting one man one-on-one isn’t such a big deal anymore.
“A lot of people talk about the first time jitters, but I fought in so many arenas, and fought throughout my whole life, and I’m one of those people that doesn’t fall down under pressure,” he said. “I think pressure creates diamonds or it crushes coal, and with the UFC pressure, I think it’s gonna create a diamond because I rise to the occasion. I like that kind of pressure and I need it.”