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Derek Brunson: ‘I know I can beat’ UFC interim champ Robert Whittaker

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Whittaker vs Brunson Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Lyoto Machida is one of the best counter strikers in MMA, so being too aggressive against him could make you pay.

Derek Brunson is up next against “The Dragon” in the Octagon, as they meet in the main event of UFC Sao Paulo in Brazil on Saturday, and Brunson vows to fight as aggressively as he always did. Yet, he learned a few thing from his 2016 defeat to future interim champion Robert Whittaker.

"I like to be aggressive, I like to finish fights,” Brunson told MMA Fighting. "But I’ve been doing a better job of finding that balance. I’m a very smart guy also, when it comes to learning how to be more strategic and not pretty much destroy your hand in one fight.

"I think the one fight that cost me the most was the Whittaker (fight) when I was super aggressive, but you look at that fight, I had him rocked the whole time. I’m sure he knows I could put him away also, but you don’t want to put yourself in those 50-50 positions. Let your skills be on show. I still wanna keep my aggressive ways and let mu skills be on display.”

"It doesn’t piss me off” to see Whittaker with a UFC belt after being so close to beating him, Brunson says, but, “no disrespect to Whittaker, I know I can beat him. I was putting it on him, you know? I had him against the cage and I hurt him. He was very exhausted. He was just able to find the spot. He actually turned and ran a couple of times to get away. He was smart.

"He was able to catch me with a combo right in the eye with a jab and I blinked, and that’s when the kick came,” Brunson continued. "It’s funny because I’ve never been in a situation when somebody was able to just … you know, I’ve never got hit in the eye, flush, I blinked, and then boom.

"He jabbed me in the eye, it was like an eye poke, when someone gets poked in the eye and, ‘oh, I can’t see.’ I’m learning. Now I know to move back and regroup instead of trying to stay in, but I’ve never been in that position before in a fight."

Whittaker won’t be back in action anytime soon after re-injuring his knee against Yoel Romero, and Brunson expects to be closer to the title picture with a big win over Machida. He’s not in a rush to meet Whittaker and avenge that loss, though.

"He will be around for a while,” Brunson said. "The older guys in the division, I’m not sure how long they will be around.”

Brunson’s focus right now is on “The Dragon”, who returns from a 18-month doping suspension. The JacksonWink talent says he’s being doing the “hardest training camp” of his career, so he expects to be in his best shape on Oct. 28.

As for Machida, who hasn’t fought in over two years, Brunson wonders how he will look inside the Octagon after such a long layoff.

"That’s the interesting part, nobody really knows,” said Brunson, who doesn’t see ring rust as a big factor at UFC Fight Night 119. "He might come back a little rusty, he might come back better. He might have took that time to improve things, fill some holes, give himself a refreshment. I’m expecting the same tricky Machida. I’m curious to know what does he look like after being out that time.”

Brunson has competed against some of the best fighters in the middleweight division, and sees Machida as “less tricky” than Anderson Silva, one of his last opponents.

"He’s a guy that is very economical with his pace,” he said. "He’s not gonna go out there and just go crazy, he’s gonna make it count. He looks to be tricky and pick his strikes and I’ve been doing a really good job of working on and understanding how he thinks."

Working with Glory kickboxers in order to better understand Machida’s style and "developing new skills,” Brunson wouldn’t be surprised if he scored his sixth first-round knockout in the UFC, but won’t go desperately for the kill.

"I can see myself finishing Machida in the first,” Brunson said. "As of now, the new me, I let the fight come to me a little more, I let it develop more, but, with that being said, I’m not laying back, waiting for a certain round.

"I’m definitely looking, I’m looking. My eyes are very alert, I’m looking to finish the fight. I see an opening early, for sure I’m gonna go finish the fight."