Derek Brunson is looking to ride his best stretch of success in years to a matchup with a top contender.
Arguably, Brunson already knocked off a future title challenger Kevin Holland, a fighter who dominated headlines in 2020 with five consecutive wins in seven months. The middleweights were paired up in Saturday’s UFC Vegas 22 main event and Brunson used his wrestling to earn a convincing decision.
The victory was light on the kinds of exciting moments that UFC producers might use in future highlight packages and part of that may have been due to Brunson’s own lack of enthusiasm over the matchup. After the fight, Brunson called for a fight with the top-ranked Paulo Costa, who recently withdrew from a scheduled bout with Robert Whittaker on April 17 due to an illness, and he elaborated on his reasons why at the UFC Vegas 22 post-fight press conference.
“I can’t say I was really too excited about this fight [with Holland],” Brunson said. “I was asking for guys like Costa. I was cool with a Robert Whittaker rematch. I want one of these top guys that’s really gonna elevate me. This was a fight where I had to hold serve. I want a guy that’s really gonna elevate me so I can really get excited for it and really feel like this is the fight for me, I really need to put it down.”
Brunson is now on a four-fight win streak, his longest such streak since he won five straight fights from 2014-2016. The 37-year-old has fallen just short of championship opportunities in the past, losing to former and future champions Whittaker, Anderson Silva, and Israel Adesanya.
With his first win of 2021 under his belt, Brunson hopes to return to action soon.
“I got a little cut so I’m gonna take some time to let it heal,” Brunson said. “I want to get back in there in a couple of months, get a fight going. That’s kind of where I’m at.”
In his eight-year run with the UFC, Brunson has also developed a reputation as being a spoiler at least when it comes to stopping up-and-comers. Not only did he stifle the popular Holland, he finished the previously unbeaten Edmen Shahbazyan in his previous outing and outworked Contender Series standout Ian Heinisch in the fight before that.
For Holland, this was his first UFC main event, but Brunson doesn’t want to hear any excuses about his younger opponent getting caught up in the moment. And if UFC President Dana White had any issues with the main event, then Brunson is confident he’ll win the boss back over next time.
“[Holland] just couldn’t stop the takedowns,” Brunson said. “It’s funny, he kept presenting his hips. He’s the kind of guy who’s very explosive to run in, but he’s long so he kind of get away with it at times. So he kept presenting his hips and he was there for the taking down. Dana White’s one of these guys, he’ll be upset with you, I come out the next fight and knock the guy out and he’ll be happy again, so it’s all good.
“I went with Shahbazyan and finished the kid last fight and I didn’t get a bonus for that fight, main event, finished him, nobody was too pleased with that. I come out here and fight, every fight can’t be pretty, but I’ve been here for a long time. This division was kind of built on my back, me with these crazy fights, so it is what it is.”