Derek Brunson did exactly what he needed to do to pull off the upset against Kevin Holland in the UFC on ESPN 21 headliner.
The 37-year-old North Carolina native withstood his opponent’s onslaught during the brief periods the fight was upright, and then relied on his wrestling and top control to carry him to a five-round verdict at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. In the past, Brunson had been known to throw caution to the wind and brawl with his opponents, and that’s when disaster would strike.
“He caught me in the first round, if I would have gave in at that moment, then there wouldn’t have been any learning from that,” Brunson said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I would’ve been just upset, humiliated. He would’ve been talking trash a whole year just off this fight. To go out there and get the win, shut him up — it feels good.”
Holland, who spent much of the contest on his back, seemed content to engage Brunson in conversation, but it didn’t get the middleweight veteran off his game.
“He kept talking, but I wasn’t going to talk back,” Brunson said. “I’m going to let you keep talking because you seem comfortable in these positions. I’m just going to keep chipping away and keep working. I took him down and was staying active. I kept my positions and let him keep talking.”
Brunson was admittedly disappointed he couldn’t put Holland away, but earning a fourth consecutive victory sets him up for bigger things in the UFC’s middleweight division.
“I was a little disappointed I didn’t get the finish,” he said. “My coach said, ‘Hey man, chill out. Enjoy it. You can’t finish all of them.’ I’m putting on great fights. I’m in a spot where the UFC is going to have to give me someone a little bit tougher, someone ranked a bit ahead. That’s what I want.”
In his post-fight interview, Brunson called for a showdown with Paulo Costa, who was recently forced to pull out of a headlining clash with Robert Whittaker on April 17. By defeating Holland, Brunson keeps himself in the mix for that fight, or another against a ranked contender.
“I can’t really say I was too excited about this fight (with Holland),” Brunson said. “I was asking for guys like Costa. I was cool with a Robert Whittaker rematch. I want one of these top guys that’s really going to elevate me. So this was a fight where I had to hold serve. I want a guy that will really elevate me that I can get really excited for and really feel like this is the fight for me.”
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