Despite having eight times the amount of UFC experience of his opponent, Ian Heinisch, Derek Brunson was an underdog heading into UFC 241.
Anaheim, CA – We saw a much-improved Derek Brunson at UFC 241. One that found the balance between too cautious, and too aggressive. A balanced Brunson is bad news for the middleweight division.
“I think over the years, just growing and paying attention to my training more. We don’t want to start too fast and I think that was a little too slow. We kind of knew what he did. He stayed busy from the outside with his hands. I was able to explode in, but he was a little quicker with the head kick than I thought.”
The man who changed Derek Brunson’s training mindset was one of the best analysts in the game, former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
“It’s funny because Dominick [Cruz] is kind of like a condescending smartass. He looked at me maybe two years ago and we were talking about training at home and all this other stuff. He asked me, ‘What about your previous fight?’ And I trained at home. So he asked, ‘Well, who’s your coach?’ And I was like, ‘Well, he is. He trains my striking, I got a person training my wrestling.’ He was like, ‘who’s your head coach?’ I couldn’t answer and he said, ‘Exactly. Who’s your head coach?’ I took a couple losses in close fights where I felt I didn’t have the right preparation and I kind of took it to heart and I thought, ‘maybe it’s time to get a head coach.'”
There was a bit of heat that developed between Derek Brunson and Ian Heinisch prior to the fight, but Brunson did not let that affect him.
“It’s funny because I’m not an overemotional guy. Me and a couple of guys before the fight, we got into a lot of words, up in each other’s faces. When I went to him at the faceoff at the weigh-ins I said, ‘you called me out, here we go.’ He was like, ‘It’s my time now!’ I’m like, ‘Woah buddy, I’m not trying to start a war, I’m just letting you know. You called me out. Show up.’ I just wanted to let him know that I was definitely going to match his intensity.”
A win like this against a highly-touted up-and-comer could turn out to be a turning point in the career of Brunson, who feels he has finally matured as a fighter.
“A lot of hard work. It’s been a lot of times I came out here and didn’t look really great. I made poor decisions out here. I had people second-guessing me, I was second-guessing myself. But I like to tell people, I never had a chance to grow up in this sport. I was so good early I got signed to Strikeforce when I was 6-0. So I was like three fights in fighting Jacare in my 10th career fight and I had been fighting for a year and a half, and this guy’s fighting for 12 years, former world champion. I never really had time to grow up. Right now, I’m older, I still have my speed and quickness and I’m finally growing up a bit.”
Brunson is typically distraction-free on fight week, but something he couldn’t ignore were the odds that had him as an underdog against his young opponent.
“There’s a little chip on my shoulder. I don’t do a lot media on fight week, so if people send me messages I don’t read them. I’ll just look and get off. I don’t read into what people are saying. I don’t read comments. I don’t go to posts. I saw one quickly that said, ‘Ian’s gonna whoop you.’ I don’t pay a lot of attention to that stuff, but I definitely had the chip on my shoulder when I saw the odds. 2:1. I was like, I don’t appreciate this, I have to show who I am and what I have.”
Check out the rest of Derek Brunson’s UFC 241 scrum above!