Derek Brunson is hoping to crack the middleweight top 10. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
On Derek Brunson’s Twitter profile description, “Bathroom Mirror Model” comes just before “Future MW Champ.”
Don’t mistake Brunson’s love of self for arrogance, however. While the middleweight might very well lead the world in selfies, Brunson’s extensive solo gallery is, according to him, borne out of necessity. Unlike more prominent training partners such as UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Brunson doesn’t have a “paparazzi” service to help bolster his Instagram account.
“I wish I had a photographer that followed me around 24-7. Then I could get great pictures,” Brunson told Sherdog.com. “All these other guys take a lot of pictures and post a lot of pictures. Nobody gives them crap about it. I just don’t have a guy that follows me around with a camera every day. So I’ve got to take a moment out and take a picture just to show everybody what’s going on.”
A few feet away, Jones’ ears perk up when he hears this explanation.
“So why is your shirt always off?” he quips.
“Because it’s hot,” Brunson replies.
All joking aside, Brunson knows he has more work to do if he is to leave a lasting image in the minds of mixed martial arts fans. The Wilmington, N.C., native has quietly won three of four in the Octagon, and in his lone defeat -- a third-round KO loss to 185-pound contender Yoel Romero -- Brunson likely had the lead on the scorecards heading into the final frame.
“He [Romero] went after it,” Brunson said. “That’s normally how it goes whenever someone’s down two rounds -- in the third round they’ve got to finish you. If I would have handled my hydration better I could have moved around for the remaining two minutes.”
While Brunson occasionally allows himself to think about what might have been, the Jackson-Wink MMA fighter still has his goals in sight.
“I could’ve been in the top 10 right now, but it’s all good. It just gives me something to be hungry for,” he said.
Brunson faces 16-time Octagon veteran Ed Herman at UFC on Fox 13 in Phoenix on Saturday night. While “Short Fuse” is nowhere near the top of the rankings, Brunson respects “The Ultimate Fighter 3” alum’s longevity in the promotion. Not everyone can hang around as long as Herman has, he says.
“[The fight] does a lot for me. He’s been in the UFC for like nine years -- never had a title shot, but he’s been around,” Brunson said. “That’s a testament to the kind of guy he is.
“I know a lot of guys that fought in the UFC, nobody remembered them,” he continued. “He’s stayed in there for a while. He might lose two, but he’ll come back and win two. He’s a dangerous guy.”
What Herman lacks is the overall explosiveness of someone like Romero. The 34-year-old relies more on constant forward movement and tenacious work from the clinch and top position. Brunson, a three-time Division II All-American wrestler at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, will likely hold a significant edge in speed and quickness.
However, the Strikeforce veteran believes athleticism tends to be overvalued in MMA. Instead, it’s what one does with those tools that truly matters.
“He’s definitely not an athlete, but he’s a tough dude. He’ll come and get it --forward pressure, just a tough gritty in-your-face type fighter,” Brunson said. “Funny enough, those are the dangerous ones. Speed and athleticism...a lot of people [are wowed by] it, but I don’t think it’s really that great of an attribute.
“It could be if you could really learn how to use it. But you’ve got Melvin Guillard. I remember he used to train here [at Jackson-Wink], and I used to look at him hitting pads. I was like, ‘F--k, this dude can knock anybody out at the drop of a dime,’ but he actually runs in and gets caught on the way in. He’s so athletic, but he doesn’t use it right. Jon Jones is a good example of somebody who uses athleticism right. He works on every part of his game and doesn’t rely on his athleticism.”
To hang around as long as Herman has, Brunson knows he will have to develop all aspects of his game. He feels as though he is nearing a breakthough, one that will arrive as long as he continues to improve.
“To keep getting better is gonna equal finishes [and] consistency,” he said. “And then everything else will take care of itself.”
Maybe then, Brunson might even find himself a photographer.