Brandon Thatch: 'I need this fight to be an exclamation point'
When Brandon Thatch arrived in the UFC in August 2013, he announced his presence with an emphatic boom as he walked through Justin Edwards in his debut in just 83 seconds.
It took Thatch just more than two minutes to do the same thing to Paulo Thiago in his second appearance and it appeared the sky was the limit for the 29-year-old fighter out of Colorado. But just when it seemed like he was ready to take the welterweight division by storm, 2014 happened and Thatch didn't fight a single time.
First came some much-needed time off after three fights in 2013, including two in the UFC in less than four months. Nagging injuries forced Thatch to allow his body to heal and then, just when it appeared he was ready to fight, he suffered a gruesome compound fracture in his toe that once again put him on the sideline.
So Thatch was extremely excited to return in the early part of 2015 and get his career back on track until his opponent, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, fell out of their fight. While the UFC usually scrambles and finds new fighters to fill slots in rapid fashion, Thatch was the main event of an already injury-riddled card and options were limited.
Was 2015 going to start the same way 2014 ended?
Thankfully, former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson stepped up to the plate and offered to face Thatch on short notice. Thatch was not only happy but also extremely relieved because the last thing he wanted to do after more than a year away from fighting was sit on the sideline and watch another card pass him by.
"I was just praying that I would have a fight," Thatch told FOX Sports. "I've been putting in a lot of time in the gym and waiting a long time to get back in the cage, and I was just grateful my fight didn't get scrapped.
"I'm thankful Benson stepped up to the plate and now I have an amazing opponent to face."
Getting a new opponent was one thing, but facing Henderson brings about an entirely different scenario for Thatch.
While he's not ranked in the top 15 at welterweight, Thatch has been labeled as the next big thing in the UFC since his debut. With an 11-1 record and all 11 wins coming by first-round stoppage or submission, Thatch has earned the distinction of a fighter to watch in 2015, but now instead of facing another top welterweight challenger, he's about to throw down with a former lightweight champion.
It's an opponent with greater name value, but on the other hand Thatch is going to have a significant size advantage that certainly will be brought up if he dispatches Henderson the same way he did Edwards and Thiago.
In other words, if Thatch wins, that's what he was supposed to do against a smaller opponent — whether that opponent is a former champion or not.
"I expect myself to beat him and I go in there confident in my abilities in every fight. In the end, it's a fight," Thatch said. "Benson's a dangerous athlete and I need to be aware of his abilities and not take my opponent lightly because you start sleeping on him and you'll be sleeping.
"He's a top-ranked athlete. He was the best in his division for a long time and he's somebody I've watched through the years and it's an honor to be in the same cage as him."
A win over Henderson, whether he's a lightweight at heart or not, certainly would add a marquee name to Thatch's résumé. He also knows that MMA has a very short memory, so Thatch is determined to reclaim the reputation he first gained as a first-round assassin when he debuted 18 months ago.
"I need this fight to be an exclamation point," Thatch said. "Time off is the worst thing that you can have as an athlete and I don't see myself having any more. I'm manifesting a healthy 2015 and I'll stay as healthy and as active as I can this year."