Let’s travel back in time to November 3rd, 2018 for UFC 230 Cormier vs. Lewis. Kicking off this main card is a clash between a rising middleweight in Israel Adesanya and UFC veteran Derek Brunson, who had 13 UFC appearances before this point. This battle ends up having a quick finish after Adesanya picks Brunson apart and ends up earning the first-round finish with a head kick and quick jab. Brunson is now 18-7 off back-to-back losses and 2-4 in his last six fights. Brunson is also about to turn 35 a few weeks after this fight. An age where most fighters see a noticeable decline in their performance. The bottom line is that the future for Derek Brunson was not looking bright after another loss.
Fast forward to September 2021, who would have thought that Derek Brunson would win five straight fights with almost all of them being the underdog going into those fights. Most of these are typically set up for the opponent who is usually younger and a more appealing prospect for the division. Yet that hasn’t discouraged Brunson one bit in his matchup and at one point, he actually embraced them during his fights against Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland, both were high risers in the middleweight division. It wasn’t until this most recent fight where Derek Brunson seemed to finally be taken seriously as a ranked middleweight contender.
So what changed for Brunson to get on this winning streak? Well, the most obvious change is his move to a different gym. Sanford MMA in Florida is well known globally for its major development of Mixed Martial Arts Champions across all major MMA promotions, not just the UFC. Some of those names being Kamaru Usman, Robbie Lawler, Michael Chandler, Gilbert Burns, Vincente Luque, and many others. His new team there has done an excellent job fixing some of Brunson’s flaws that have held him back from being a top contender.
One of the biggest changes they’ve made is his type of aggressiveness. Certainly, as a wrestler, the fighter is expected to always stay aggressive with takedowns and ground & pound. But if a fighter is unable to stay unpredictable with his or her takedowns, they become extremely predictable for even those who don’t come from wrestling backgrounds and simply work on wrestling for defensive purposes. Nonetheless, this has made a major difference in Derek’s attack. It has allowed him to earn the positions he wants to and feel most comfortable within a fight. Brunson’s improvement in striking has also helped him earn the ground positions he wants. When a dual-threat fighter is lethal on the ground and standing up, it makes defensive game plans much harder for opponents because they are unable to prepare for what style will be expected more.
Brunson’s focus has seemed to change a lot as well. He thinks much more during his fights rather than charge into situations without thinking of the outcome. This is how he ends up in sticky situations that typically end up in losses for Brunson. Brunson has fixed his mixture to include more technicality while also staying aggressive and having power in his punches. These aspects were shown greatly against Shahbazyan and Darren Till. Both of these fights ended with finishes for Brunson.
Derek Brunson is now knocking on the door for his first title fight with his winning streak now extended to five after the submission win over Till on September 4th. And per his request, he doesn’t want to wait. This is a fair argument because he has won five straight fights against big names like Kevin Holland and Darren Till. But it does get complicated when that opportunity will actually happen because Robert Whittaker is the clear-cut number one contender after three impressive wins. It is also rumored that the rematch between him and Israel Adesanya will not happen until 2022 because Adesanya wants the fight to happen in New Zealand after the first fight happened in Australia in October 2019 per Whittaker’s request. Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori are also scheduled to fight on October 23rd. If Brunson did want to fight again, his best option would be against Jared Cannonier, who is coming off a key win against Kelvin Gastelum.
Nonetheless, Derek Brunson’s story should show all that it doesn’t matter what numbers or odds go against someone. What matters more is that one continues to pursue their dreams to the best of their ability. They also should never let anything hold them back whether it be other people or unfair opportunities. There are always ways to improve yourself at your craft whatever it may be. Regardless of whether Brunson gets his title shot or not, he serves as a perfect example of why one should never give up regardless of what others say.