Rivalries: Derek Brunson

By Brian Knapp Mar 17, 2021

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As he attempts to navigate his late 30s, Derek Brunson appears to have designs on making one last run at the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight division.

The Henri Hooft protégé will put a three-fight winning streak on the line when he meets divisional upstart Kevin Holland in the UFC on ESPN 21 main event this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Brunson, 37, has quietly compiled a 12-5 record since he joined the UFC roster as part of the Strikeforce merger in 2012. Brunson last competed under the UFC Fight Night 173 marquee on Aug. 1, when he laid waste to the previously unbeaten Edmen Shahbazyan with third-round punches. The Wilmington, North Carolina native has delivered more than half (12) of his 21 career victories by knockout or technical knockout.

As Brunson prepares for his critical confrontation with Holland, a look at a few of the rivalries that have shaped him as a mixed martial artist:

Ronaldo Souza


Brunson should probably pick a fight with someone other than Souza. “Jacare” on Jan. 27, 2018 moved to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with the Sanford MMA rep, as he brought down Brunson with a head kick and follow-up punches in the first round of their UFC on Fox 27 headliner at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. On the receiving end of a 41-second knockout from the former Strikeforce champion in 2012, Brunson this time bowed out 3:50 into Round 1. Souza steered clear of the North Carolinian’s crushing left hand, probed for weaknesses and went to work. He slammed his right shin into the side of Brunson’s head, the impact sending the three-time NCAA All-American wrestler hurdling backward. Souza then marched toward him, unloaded with an uppercut and prompted the stoppage with a quick burst of left hooks.

Lyoto Machida


Sometimes the bull gets the matador. Brunson knocked out the former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder with crushing ground-and-pound in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 119 headliner on Oct. 28, 2017 at Geraldo Jose de Almeida Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Machida lasted just 2:30 in his first appearance in more than two years. Brunson bided his time and waited for an opening. He sent a sweeping counter left hook crashing into Machida’s chin, floored the staggered Brazilian with follow-up punches and then knocked him unconscious with a volley of unanswered blows on the mat before referee Osiris Maia could arrive on the scene to prevent further damage.

Robert Whittaker


Chaos did not suit Brunson, at least not against “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner. He charged at Whittaker and all but impaled himself in the UFC Fight Night 101 main event on Nov. 26, 2016, as he yielded to a first-round head kick and follow-up punches at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. The end came 4:07 into Round 1, closing the book on Brunson’s five-fight winning streak. Paying little attention to anything resembling sound defense or strategy, Brunson threw himself at the Australia-based New Zealand native from the start, hands flying and chin extended. For a brief time, there seemed to be a method to his madness, as he had Whittaker on his heels. Prosperity did not last. Whittaker threw out his anchor, waited for the storm to pass and capitalized. He stopped Brunson in his tracks with a clean left hook, uncorked a series of vicious uppercuts and then reset himself. A head kick further compromised Brunson and left him unable to shield himself from the attack that followed, as Whittaker buried him with unanswered punches at the base of the cage. Less than a year later, “Bobby Knuckles” laid claim to the UFC middleweight championship. Advertisement
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