Without much fanfare, Derek Brunson has gone 6-1 to start his career in the UFC.
Given how many events take place and the fact that seemingly every week there is a new gigantic fight announced that enthralls the MMA audience, it would be easy to understand the Wilmington, North Carolina native’s steady progress and ascent up the middleweight ladder going unnoticed if he were grinding out decisions, but the surging 32-year-old has needed just over five minutes combined to settle Ed Herman, Sam Alvey and Roan Carneiro in his last three outings, and he rolls into his co-main event matchup with Uriah Hall this weekend in Hidalgo, Texas on a four-fight winning streak.
So what gives?
“I still think people are not really paying attention,” the affable middleweight suggests when asked why his current winning streak hasn’t generated more buzz. “They’re kind of like, ‘Okay, this guy is kinda good, but we don’t know exactly what we have here.’ I know what my capabilities are though.
“I was thinking the other day: I’m 6-1 in the UFC, I’ve got a big fight coming up, I’m currently ranked tenth, I’ve been finishing guys in the first – if I can go out here and get another finish in the first, I can definitely hurdle some guys (in the rankings), so I could be in the six or seven spot.”
While there is no real way to calculate how the rankings could shake out if Brunson is able to extend his winning streak to five with a win over Hall on Saturday, the spirit of his statement is on point, especially if he picks up yet another first-round stoppage victory.
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“Hall fought Robert Whittaker and lost to him and he fought (Gegard) Mousasi and beat him,” Brunson continues, breaking down the middleweight hierarchy even further. “Mousasi is eight, Whittaker is seven, so if I go out here and finish this guy in the first round, I definitely should be jumping some people and there aren’t a lot of guys that started their career in the UFC 7-1, so that would put me in some rarified air.”
With four straight wins and his lone loss inside the Octagon coming to fourth-ranked Yoel Romero in a fight where the former Division-II All-American was up on the scorecards heading into the third, this weekend’s pairing with Hall even seems a little out of place, given that the former Ultimate Fighter finalist hasn’t fought since his loss to Whittaker last winter at UFC 193.
He was scheduled to face Anderson Silva earlier this year at UFC 198 before the bout was pulled at the 11th hour when the former champion was forced to have emergency gall bladder surgery, and with the division currently in a state of flux, getting the opportunity to step back into the Octagon and potentially get another win under his belt is good enough for Brunson.
“I wanted to fight Uriah Hall a long time ago when we were both doing pretty well, having some big wins,” Brunson says. “I tried to fight him a while ago, but currently, all the fights I’ve asked for, I never get, so they were like, ‘Here’s a fight.’ What am I supposed do, say no?
“I was actually looking for Vitor (Belfort), Mousasi, because we were supposed to fight, or Robert Whittaker – trying to get some name recognition – but a fight is a fight and I’m cool.”
Brunson is able to adopt his current laissez-faire attitude because everything is clicking and coming together for him, affirming his belief that with hard work comes results. At the same time, by no means is he resting on his laurels, content to have reached the Top 10 and amassed a shiny record through his first seven fights.
He has bigger goals that he needs to keep working towards.
“It’s just a combination of everything – working with my crew in Wilmington, working with my crew in Albuquerque and putting everything together with a lot of consistency,” he cites as the reason for his current run of success. “I feel like if people put a lot of serious time into their training, they’ll get the result they want and I put a lot of time into my training and these are the results.
“It feels good, but I also know where I’m at,” he adds. “A lot of guys would be super-stoked to have my record in the UFC and to be ranked, but I know my potential. When I got into this sport, I knew what my goal was from Day One, so all these fights are steps that I need to take to get to where I want to get, but I won’t start to be really excited until I get into those really big fights and I start to see my hard work really start to pay off.”
A win over Hall will bring him one step closer, and as far as Brunson is concerned, how he gets that victory Saturday night depends on his opponent.
“It’s all based on Uriah Hall,” he offers when asked how he sees the penultimate fight of the evening playing out. “I really don’t have too much of a game plan; I just know what I’m good at, what the other person is good at and what they’re not good at, so it depends on how he comes out.
“If he comes out all reckless, it could be a short night for him. If he sits back, it could be a short night for him. It all depends. I look to get out there, mix it up, search for my openings and when I see it, I won’t hesitate to go for the finish.”