By Raphael Garcia
Mixed martial arts is a sport where it’s easy for a fighter to become lost in the shuffle. The impact of heavy promotion, a big win, or a large presence on social media can cause some fighters to get a wealth of the attention while others are overlooked. Derek Brunson is such a fighter, yet his win over Uriah Hall at UFC Fight Night 94 came at the perfect time for him to make a push towards contender’s status.
Since joining the UFC as a part of the acquisition of StrikeForce in 2012, Brunson has put together a quiet 7-1 resume. Even in that one loss to Yoel Romero at UFC Fight Night 35, he was in position to win before being finished with less than two minutes to go in the bout. Before his win on Saturday night, the other big win during this run came against Lorenz Larkin at UFC 177, proving that he has the talent to be a threat in this division.
Knocking out Hall in less than two minutes in this co-main event on Fox Sports 1 should garner Brunson some well-deserved attention. Even though Brunson has experienced much more success at middleweight than Hall, Hall was the higher-ranked competitor when they stepped into the cage on Saturday. This was the first time he had been slotted into such a high position on the card, and Brunson did an exceptional job taking advantage of that opportunity.
Brunson would ordinarily expect his next fight to be against a top five opponent. However, many of those men are already booked in fights through the rest of 2016. There’s plenty of time left in the year for Brunson to get in at least one more fight though, and selecting the right opponent is vital to making the most of his current run. Thales Leites is a compelling opponent both from a style and record standpoint that could help Brunson solidify his claim for an eventual title-eliminator fight. Plus, Leites is one of the few men currently ranked in the UFC Top 15 that is not scheduled for a fight at this point in time.
Brunson should be feared throughout the division. While it’s too easy to compare Brunson and Anthony Johnson due to simple physical attributes, there are some interesting parallels in the way the two men compete. Much like Johnson in the light heavyweight division, Brunson has shown an ability to violently end fights with power. His last four fights were each ended via some form of knockout in the first round. He’s also shown an ability to end fights via submission, though that’s not his first avenue of attack. He’s dropped fights to Romero and “Jacare” Souza, but his ability to win the big fights shouldn’t be totally overlooked just yet.
The rest of the middleweight division should be seriously concerned about Derek Brunson and what he brings to the Octagon. He’s one big win away from title contention, and that could very well come before the end of 2016.
UFC Fight Night 94: Johnson vs. Poirier took place on September 17, 2016 at State Farm Arena in Hildalgo, Texas.