Derek Brunson had been hearing the UFC middleweight champion talk up potential challengers for months. Israel Adesanya had spoken about Jared Cannonier, who won two weeks ago. And earlier this year the champ had said the 185-pound contender who excited him most was Darren Till, who happened to be Brunson’s opponent on Saturday.
One name that had not come out of Adesanya’s mouth: Derek Brunson.
So after dominating Till from start to third-round submission finish in the UFC Fight Night main event in Las Vegas, Brunson made sure to let Adesanya know that he is not one to be overlooked.
“I’m tired of these guys not mentioning my name,” Brunson said. “Izzy, look at the camera, mention my name. I heard you mentioning Till and Cannonier. Yeah, I’ve been busting my butt for four years after my loss to get to this point. So yeah, I’m ready to contend.”
The loss to which Brunson referred was a first-round TKO suffered at the hands of Adesanya in 2018. That was during Adesanya’s rise toward becoming champion. But Brunson has made something of himself since then, too. He has won five fights in a row, including smashing a couple of rising prospects the UFC was trying to build on his name, in Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland.
And then there was Saturday’s win in the headline bout of a fight card that the promotion essentially built around his opponent. It wasn’t just the UFC that was banking on Till. Despite having lost three of his last four coming in, the Englishman was the betting favorite.
But Till did not have a chance, because Brunson was all over him right from the start. Brunson got takedowns in all three rounds, and he used them well. He remained on top for most of the first 10 minutes and inflicted damage with punches and elbows, bruising the right side of Till’s face.
And in Round 3, after Brunson absorbed a hard left hand — Till’s most promising moment — Brunson went right back to his old reliable wrestling offense, getting another takedown. Once he got Till’s back, he ended the fight quickly with a rear-naked choke. It was a thorough beatdown and efficient finish.
Though Adesanya handled their first fight rather easily, Brunson could be a handful for him in a rematch. Brunson’s wrestling is dominant, and Adesanya had difficulty getting out from underneath light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz in their fight last March. Will it even come to an Adesanya-Brunson rematch, though? Adesanya is expected to defend his belt next against former champion Robert Whittaker. So it could be a while before Brunson or Cannonier get a chance at whoever holds the belt.
Brunson is willing to wait. “I’m not broke,” he said, in a reference to Cannonier saying after his recent win that he has no money and needs to take another fight rather than sitting out until Adesanya and Whittaker have settled their business.
“I’ll sit and wait,” said Brunson. “That’ll give me five, six months to get my body right and prepare for this last, long title push that I’m trying to make.”