Brandon Thatch looks to break out
NOV 08, 2013 7:24p ET
On the eve of the sport's 20th anniversary, it's next breakout star might be the one brought to us partly by a serendipitous case of love, and partly by a visit from MMA's first family during the UFC's inaugural event. Yes, Brandon Thatch's life as he knows it was first put in motion over 20 years ago. Many fighters have said they were influenced by the debut appearance made by Royce Gracie in 1993, but few can claim it as a personal experience. Thatch can.
When the Gracies stormed Denver all those years ago, they needed a place to train leading up to the event. They chose 3D Martial Arts, whose owner happened to be a longtime kickboxer named Clarence Thatch.
At the time, Clarence's stepson Brandon was eight years old, and had already spent half of his life training in karate. Even in his youth, seeing this new style of fighting called Gracie jiu-jitsu was an eye-opening experience.
"We were blown away," he told FOX Sports.
And these days, many have been blown away by the talents of Thatch, who has recorded his 10 professional wins in a total time of 12 minutes and 33 seconds. He made his UFC debut in August, and the step up in competition was no issue. Facing Justin Edwards, who had never been finished in 10 pro fights, Thatch needed just 83 seconds to lay waste to the rugged veteran with an assault of knees and punches.
"I don't think it could have gone better," he said. "It was very surreal. Afterward, I told my family and friends that it happened so fast that I wish I could have bottled it up and saved it for later. I was petrified and excited going into the week, but starting from the weigh-ins, I felt like a rock star. From then on, everything went so fast."
So perfectly, too. The only downside was that his performance took place on the prelims, limiting the number of viewers who saw it. So for his sophomore effort, the UFC wasted no time in raising the stakes, fast-tracking him with a main-card matchup against the vastly more experienced Paulo Thiago.
The 32-year-old Thiago (15-5) has competed 10 times under the bright lights of the octagon, defeating names including Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick. If that isn't enough, the Brazilian special forces member is expected to be a huge crowd favorite among the nationalistic audience at Goiania Arena.
That increased spotlight is a welcome boon to Thatch.
"I have no doubt that I'm going to turn it up," he said. "I'm not one of those guys who gets in his own head and gets scared and doesn't perform. I'm a performer. When the light comes on, I do my thing, and I'm going to perform. I turn it on, man. It's time to go."
Thatch cuts an impressive presence in the cage. At 6-foot-2, he is a massive welterweight who often gets near 200 pounds in between fights. On Thursday, 24 hours from weigh-ins, he was 178, and in good spirits, saying it was inexcusable to miss weight.
Thatch has also illustrated other distinctly professional traits during his brief career. For example, he refuses to talk trash before a fight, and after one, if he finishes an opponent, he takes a knee while his foe is down.
"I want to be considered respectful," he said. "My mother watches this. I want to make sure she's proud of her baby boy."
Those traits also likely go back to the early teachings ingrained in him by his stepfather.
Clarence Thatch is something of a legend in the Colorado martial arts scene. When Brandon was four, his mom, looking for an outlet for young Brandon's energy, brought him to 3D Martial Arts. At the time, Brandon's mom was single -- she had split with Brandon's birth father before he was ever born -- and so was the gym's instructor, Clarence. Before long, the two started dating. Eventually, they married and Clarence legally adopted Brandon.
Brandon considers Clarence his real father, and trained with him regularly until he was about 13 or 14, when he slowed down, saying he was burnt out on the sport. In reality, he still loved it, but, he says, he needed some time away to find out who he was. That led to some wrong turns hanging out with the wrong kinds of friends, drinking a bit and generally being a "knucklehead," as he puts it.
But Thatch never strayed far. Occasionally, he would drop into the gym and smoke other fighters who were competing and succeeding on the local scene. After he learned some of them were even making money fighting, he told his father he wanted to do the same, but Clarence told Brandon that he needed six solid months of training first
Brandon committed to the training, and at 16, had his first kickboxing match. He won and was immediately hooked.
Over the last two years, the interest in Thatch has grown substantially, preceding his arrival into the UFC. Recently, he's had great opportunities to gauge himself against the best when he was brought into the Tristar camp of divisional champion Georges St-Pierre twice, to mimic both Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit.
Thatch called the experiences both "eye-opening" and "humbling," and says he'd like to go back again to train with the group. And although he'd prefer not to fight Tristar welterweight like Rory MacDonald and St-Pierre, he knows it may one day be unavoidable.
"If my mother had the UFC belt, I'd scrap my mom," he said. "Until then, maybe not. It's nothing but business. If you've got to get that strap, you've got to fight. I don't think I'm anywhere near saying I'm on that level though. When the time comes, we'll worry about that."
While he's dominated opponents in standup, Thatch said he's progressing in wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and "learning to love" the things he's not quite as good at.
Some people think he's destined to get to that elite level. After all, his life has been touched by cases of serendipity so perfect, you have to wonder if there are greater forces at play bringing him to us.
"I don't think I've even come close to peaking as far as my athletic ability," he said. "I feel like I'm a race car that's been driven to 30 real fast and turned off. I've still yet to redline and go for it. The expectations are high but I don't want to let anybody down. I don't want to be a bottle rocket. I'm in control of my actions and I try to focus on that. I've just barely obtained a dream. I just got to the UFC. It's a dream to get here. I'm in no hurry to do anything I'm not deserving of. If I prove myself and the matchmakers and fans like me, I'll go to it. I'm in no hurry. If I do what I can with the things I can control, the outcome will handle itself."