As a professional fighter who puts it all on the line in front of the world every time he competes, Derek Brunson wasn’t likely to be the one evacuating when Hurricane Florence hit his native North Carolina in September.
“It was a mandatory evacuation, but I didn’t leave,” said Wilmington’s Brunson. “That’s probably a problem. (Laughs) As fighters, we really don’t have too many fears. We go in front of millions and fight.”
So as the storm came in, Brunson kept it as business as usual as he could, and thankfully, he made it through unscathed.
“We had some flooding, some water that came up to my knees so we had to clear the drains, and we had some trees fall, but that was about it. We didn’t have it too bad in my area. It could have been a lot worse.”
What may be even more notable is that Brunson’s preparation for his Saturday showdown against Israel Adesanya wasn’t disturbed too much, either.
“It affected training a little bit, but not too bad,” he said. “We had to improvise and I had to get the workouts in, but it was only for a couple days, so it wasn’t too bad.”
In other words, nothing rattles Derek Brunson.
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“I don’t get rattled by too much, not at all,” he laughs.
It’s a key reason why Brunson sits at the number six spot in the middleweight rankings, a place earned by wins over the likes of Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall, Sam Alvey and Ed Herman. Sure, there have been some bumps in the road over the years, most notably a loss to “Jacare” Souza in their January rematch, but if Brunson has proved anything, it’s that win or lose, he’s a dangerous man on fight night, something rising star Adesanya must be aware of.
And Brunson knows it.
“It’s funny, because that kid is a talker,” he said of Adesanya. “He likes to talk a lot of trash before the fight, and I noticed that toned down. I know he’s feeling it now, he’s feeling that pressure that he said all this and now he’s gonna have to back it up.
“I’ve got power,” Brunson continues. “I can put guys down. I do put guys down. So you come there as a striker and everybody loves you, but you’ve got a guy who can put your lights out really quick and that takes your striking away and everybody will be looking at you a little different when that’s your best attribute. So I know where he’s at right now and I know where I’m at right now, and I’m definitely gonna put it on him.”
So there was not even a thought in Brunson’s mind that as Florence roared into town, he might have a reason to not show up in New York City this weekend.
“No, I just keep that focus,” he said. “I have an end goal going into every fight and every time I sign the contract. Okay, I signed the contract, now let’s work towards that end goal. And whatever that comes along the way, unless it’s something that legitimately holds me from being able to compete in that fight, all I see is the end goal. And I’m gonna make it.”
That’s even if NYC wasn’t that great to him his last time there, when he lost a controversial decision to Anderson Silva in Brooklyn in February of 2017. That outcome still stings the 34-year-old, but he’s prepared for a better outcome for his second visit.
“That was a big fight for me,” Brunson said of the Silva bout. “I took it on short notice against a very historic figure in our sport and 90 percent of the people thought I won the fight and I didn’t get the decision. So here we are again with New York, but I’m unfazed, unrattled, and just focused on the fight.”
And to win this fight, Brunson knows that while he will bring his power and wrestling to the Octagon, he also needs to use those tools wisely, given the fact that, in the past, he has been known to go off course at times. Those diversions have resulted in fan-friendly brawls and exchanges, but they’ve also garnered him some defeats as well. He promises that won’t be the case against “The Last Stylebender.”
“I’m focused on getting wins in a real good fashion and dominating and not putting myself at risk by doing stupid stuff,” he said. “I have a great record, but some of the fights have been a little too crazy and I didn’t really stick to the game plan too much. So I’ve been focusing on those things a little more.”
Is that easier said than done? Brunson doesn’t think so, saying that it all comes down to maturity in the game.
“The more of a veteran in the sport you become, you really start to focus on those things and implement it in your training,” he said. “You try to slow your training down, slow your sparring down, and understand that one punch isn’t the end of the world. I’m training for a kickboxer now, so I’ve been getting in front of a lot of kickboxers, and obviously they’re going to be a little better at striking, so it’s been good. But it’s my job to keep them guessing and not be one-dimensional. And I like it. I can put guys away, but I still have All-American wrestling in my back pocket.”
And with 13 UFC bouts to Adesanya’s three, Brunson has every intention of taking the New Zealander into deep waters in the middle of Manhattan.
“I’ve been in there with everybody and I have a great record,” he said. “I know what it looks like, I know what it takes. He’s been in there with solid guys that are UFC-worthy fighters, but they’re not quite top ten fighters. Now you’ve got a guy that’s top ten that can challenge him in a lot of different areas and can match him with speed and explosiveness. So it’s definitely gonna be a shock for him.”