While Derek Brunson might have appeared overzealous to an outside observer, Robert Whittaker was prepared for his opponent’s aggression in the UFC Fight Night 101 headliner in Melbourne on Saturday night.
“He came out hard and fast. All through the training camp I knew he would come out hard, that’s what he does,” Whittaker said on Fox Sports 1. “But I could not have anticipated him coming out that hard. I knew if I weathered the storm he was going to get tired [at some point]. And that’s exactly what I did. I weathered the storm, he was tired afterwards and when you’re tired and I’m striking at you holes open up.”
Brunson, who entered the bout with four consecutive KO/TKO victories, appeared to be gunning for No. 5 as he lunged forward winging power punches with his chin held high. The Jackson-Wink MMA representative hurt Whittaker early, but he couldn’t maintain his pace long enough to put the Aussie fighter away. Whittaker turned the tide when he landed a counter left hook that put the hard-charging Brunson on wobbly legs. A jab followed by a high kick put Brunson in even more peril, and “The Reaper” swarmed with uppercuts, shoved his man down and finished with ground-and-pound at the 4:07 mark of the first frame.
“I bring it. I’m always looking for fireworks. I’m always looking to keep it standing. If you want to come out hard, I’ll come harder. Everyone was saying, ‘What about Brunson’s left hand? What about his power?’ Credit to him, he’s got a heavy left hand. He’s got heavy power. He’s a super athlete,” Whittaker said. “But I hit just as hard. I think he knows it now.”
“Fought a dangerous game tonight,” Brunson wrote on Facebook. “Trying to impress/make history for a title shot. Great job to my opponent. Long tough week. I’ll be back. Thanks all.”
Whittaker has now won six straight fights and five in a row since moving to 185 pounds. At 25 years old, the Sydney native stands out as a young contender in a division that needs new blood.
“I’ve been in the top 10 for a while now. I try to demonstrate my ability every time I step in here and make an example,” he said during his post-fight interview in the Octagon. “I’m ready for those top 5 contenders. I’m ready for my shot. My run’s started.”