It’s fight week in Houston and Derek Brunson surprised us all with the record-scratch surprise announcement that his fight Saturday vs Jared Cannonier at UFC 271 will be his next-to-last. With hopes that a win will secure him his long-awaited title shot, his dream is to go out on top.
“I got other stuff to do,” he laughs, noting he hopes to get back home in time to see the Super Bowl on Sunday (he's picking the Rams in case you were wondering).
And there he is, the perennially upbeat, lighthearted Derek Brunson or, in this case, his alter-ego “Blonde Brunson.” There’s nothing hokey or sentimental in this announcement. He’s not looking for a grandiose farewell tour or anything of the sort. He wasn’t even sure he should mention it.
“I told my cousin…I’m not sure how many people I told because I didn’t even really want to talk about it, because I didn’t want anybody to take it like a weakness. But if they do, that’s fine. I’m me. I know the objective here. I’m not retiring because my body don’t feel good and I can’t do it no more. I’m retiring because I feel too good…and if I just keep doing it, eventually there’s going to be a decline. So I picked two more fights and then that’s it.”
In an age of sports stars that hang around a little too long, Brunson seems to be taking the clear-eyed long view.
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“MMA has been taking up a lot of my time for 12 years straight. I’ve been gone, away from the family. Also, I’ve got a sound mind and a strong mind. I don’t want to be like these guys that’s slurring, can’t speak. I feel really good, I feel at my prime, so…ride out on a high note.
“I’m thinking, ‘I feel healthy, I feel real good. This is my 20th fight in the UFC. This ain’t normal.’ You just don’t have 20 fights in the UFC, have no crazy injuries, your brain feels good and everything. I don’t know how I got this lucky. My goal is a title shot. Beat this guy. Get a title shot. Win the title. Ride out.”
Jared Cannonier vs Derek Brunson Preview | UFC 271
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Jared Cannonier vs Derek Brunson Preview | UFC 271
As storylines go, it would be a hard one to top if Brunson succeeds. In facing the winner of UFC 271’s middleweight championship main event between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, he’d have a chance to even the score with one of the five men who have handed him losses during his decade in the UFC. He has no preference as to which, taking some strange satisfaction in the “MMA math” of being the guy who beat the guy.
“Jacare [Souza] beat me twice. Then [Kevin] Holland beat Jacare. Then I fight Holland and beat him. So it took care of that Jacare thing for me,” he laughs.
Since debuting at UFC 155 in 2012, has consistently been one of the most dangerous men at 185 pounds. Sitting at 14-5 since entering the promotion, it’s noteworthy that all his losses are to future champions (Adesanya, Whittaker), former champions (Souza - the former Strikeforce boss - and Anderson Silva) or multiple title-challenger Yoel Romero. Now, at age 38, he’s ready to put those lessons together and go out in the blaze of glory everyone knows he capable of. And while it’s a delicious narrative to ponder, he’s careful not to overlook the very sizable task he needs to face on Saturday’s main card to get there: Jared Cannonier.
“He’s a tough guy. He’s a striker, he’s hard-nosed. He stays in fights. I wouldn’t say he’s great at any one thing. He’s solid, pretty well-rounded.”
To that end, Brunson didn’t spend a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel in camp.
“I just prepared to beat him up. Mainly my focus in camp is being the best version of myself.
“I have a really good formula. I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for the past five fights. I’ve been at Sanford for three years now. I get out there and get in shape the first week. Pick it up the second week. Third week pick it up even more. Fourth week go pretty hard and then fifth week I’m tapering off. It’s been working really good.
“I remember that third week my body felt fatigued, I couldn’t even lift people up. Then that fourth week I was just throwing people out the house; moving them around easy. My body started peaking at the right time. I feel really good.”
You believe him when he says it. His social media is full of photos professing to feeling in the best shape of his career, and there’s no visual evidence to the contrary. He rides a five-fight win streak into Saturday, all cylinders firing.
Four of the five best middleweights in the world will square off this Saturday, and the potential storylines will become a lot clearer then. But if “Blonde Brunson” could script his UFC curtain call, does he have a destination in mind?
“I would say North Carolina, but that wouldn’t be realistic in terms of whoever is holding the belt. Let’s say Vegas. I’m undefeated in Vegas. I made my UFC debut in Vegas. So yeah, Vegas.”
UFC 271: Adesanya vs Whittaker 2 took place on Saturday, February 12, 2022, live from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.