Derek Brunson’s fight against Robert Whittaker was already big, but it recently got a whole lot bigger. After Luke Rockhold was forced out of the UFC Fight Night 101 main event against Ronaldo Souza with an injury, the pair of middleweight contenders slated for co-headliner status, Brunson and Whittaker, were bumped up to the main event position.
Along with added media and publicity, main event fighters are also scheduled for five rounds. This will be Brunson’s first main event — and his first time training for a five-round fight. Even though he was asked to fight in the main event on short notice, the extra rounds aren’t a concern for Brunson.
“I definitely like the main event spot,” Brunson told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “What better way than to go into Robert Whittaker’s hometown and pick up a win, especially in impressive fashion, and just keep the ball rolling.
“No added pressure. The only thing that was different about this is that I was training for a three-round fight. I’m confident I can go five rounds. I’ve changed up my training over the years; I don’t lift weights as much as I used to, so I’m built for the cardio now. Five rounds is OK with me.”
Brunson and Whittaker are two of the top rising contenders in the UFC middleweight division, and some people could argue that the fight between them isn’t ideal because it’s killing off an up-and-comer. But Brunson doesn’t look at it like that; he thinks the best should fight the best.
“I’m a firm believer that I’ll make fights happen, get the fights done,” he said. “I don’t like the whole nurturing people. The UFC is where the best in the world fight at. You got some of the best fighters all across the world. It’s the top organization. Forget all that nurturing fighters. Line people up; let the fights happen. That’s kind of how I look at things. Keep the division flowing.”
Michael Bisping captured the middleweight championship this past June with a shocking knockout win over Rockhold. He has since defended it against 46-year-old Dan Henderson, who was ranked No. 13 going into the matchup at UFC 204 last month. Bisping recently called out Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz, a pair of inactive welterweights, showing lots of interest in a super-fight.
But Brunson isn’t buying it. He thinks Bisping should be fighting the top contenders in his own division (to Bisping’s credit, he has expressed in fighting Chris Weidman if the former titleholder wins at UFC 205).
“He’s doing a little too much,” Brunson said. “Come on. Why are you calling out all these 170-pounders? I read the article of his explanation about why he was willing to fight St-Pierre and Diaz opposed to ‘Jacare.’ Also, I think he was asking to fight them pretty soon, but all of a sudden you can’t fight for the middleweight title. I get it; he’s saying he wants a bigger payday.”
Not necessarily referring to Bisping but instead featherweight champ Conor McGregor, Brunson believes that fighters should stick to their own division — until it’s cleared out — and stop looking for super-fights.
“These guys are quickly trying to turn MMA into boxing, and that’s what killed boxing,” he said. “I think guys need to go back to their weight class, put in some work, try to work on a legacy at their weight class, instead of all this jumping around. It messes up the division, it pisses the fans off, it pisses the fighters off, it creates a whole bunch of turmoil and it takes away from the trueness of the sport.
“Dream fights are just what fans are talking about. We need to see fights that people are actually supposed to see. If a guy wants to get a dream fight or a super-fight, clear out your division. Beat about five guys in a row, then do that. You can’t beat one guy and then go fight for another belt. That really doesn’t make sense.”
Brunson, who’s currently No. 8 in the official UFC middleweight rankings, sees himself getting a shot at the belt sooner rather than later. He isn’t expecting to receive a title shot immediately after the Whittaker fight should he win, but more likely a No. 1 contender fight to determine the next challenger.
“One away from a title fight after that,” he said when asked where he thinks he’ll be in the division with a win over Whittaker. “It depends, though. That’ll be six in a row. You can make a case for a guy getting a title shot off six in a row. I think you have to be consistent to get title shots, too. You can’t just win one fight in a row. I have a lot going for me, fighting top 10 guys and finishing them. And the winning streak. Who knows? Maybe some guy’s up for the title, he gets injured, boom, I’m right there.”