World Series of Fighting will end 2016 with a bang on Sunday, December 31.
A slate of mixed martial arts bouts will be aired on New Years Eve live from Madison Square Garden on the NBC networks.
One of the top matches on the 11-match card features David Branch, the Bronx-born, light heavyweight and middleweight champion, who will defend his middleweight belt against fellow grappler Louis Taylor of Chicago.
Branch, who now resides in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, said he was looking forward to defending his middleweight belt in his hometown.
Mixed martial arts fighting was illegal in New York until just last year.
Branch said being able to fight in his own backyard instead of travelling to Las Vegas was a big deal for him.
“Just knowing that I can bring all of my fans from home, that they could come see me fight, was a huge thing for me,” the 35-year-old said from his David Branch Martial Arts and Jiu-Jitsu studio in Hoboken, NJ, where he now trains.
The first hour of the event will air live on the NBC Sports Network from 3 to 4 p.m. The event will then continue on NBC 4 New York from 4. to 6 p.m.
Branch has fought competitively for almost ten years, and competed in the UFC and Bellator MMA associations before finding major success in the WSOF, racking up nine wins in a row since 2012.
It’s a far cry from his early days spent in various parts of the Bronx such as Mosholu Parkway, Gun Hill Road and Hunts Point.
He moved to Manhattan when he was 10 and attended A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in Harlem.
“I was all over,” he recalled with a laugh.
Branch said he stumbled into MMA fighting years ago by chance and never looked back.
“I’ve always been around fighting, and fate just came swinging my way one day,” he said. “I bought tapes from [a street peddler] and I took [them] home and looked at [them] and said, ‘This is what I wanna do.’”
Branch said his full-time job is preparing for injuries and the certainty of pain that the matches entail.
“The training is rough, every day you have to do something different to train your body in different ways,” he said. “But it’s more about the mental training, getting yourself ready to go into that element and be able to thrive and win.”
Branch said his fights are a technical display of skills that even a non-fan could appreciate, and that he hoped new viewers will tune in to give the sport a chance.
“It’s not just the brutality of it where you put two people in the ring … like human cockfighting,” he said. “That’s not the style I fight with – it’s aesthetically pleasing. I use techniques that make people say holy sh-t, I can’t believe he just did that.”
A self-proclaimed problem child in his youth, Branch said he wanted to start speaking to young people, especially troubled and inner city youth, about how to deal with adversity.
“I want to be an ambassador for other kids who are troubled, to tell them they have another way,” he said. “I was in and out of trouble growing up, but I was able to make it out of those circumstances and create a business for myself and be successful in a super-competitive market and making it to number one. I want them to know that’s possible if they put their head into it.”