Despite a four-fight win streak and a higher ranking in the middleweight division, Derek Brunson finds himself as the underdog with less attention surrounding him as he prepares to clash with Darren Till in the UFC Vegas 36 main event this weekend.
A big part of the buzz surrounding Till has revolved around his never-ending interest in a future fight against UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, which has been frequently reciprocated by “The Last Stylebender” ever since he claimed the title. In fact, Till has been an opponent Adesanya has talked about facing regardless of resume as the British veteran currently sports just a 1-1 record in the 185-pound division.
None of that weighs on Brunson’s mind as he prepares for his third straight main event. He’s come to understand why Till is such a magnetic character with a better record than many fighters with similar buzz surrounding them.
“There’s a lot of guys [like that],” Brunson said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I would say he earned it more than a [Sean] O’Malley or something like that. I think what 18-4, former title challenger, a win over Stephen Thompson, he had another quality win, too. He has some quality wins.
“He put himself in a great spot. He’s from the U.K. with a big following, that helps also. He’s just a guy that has a lot of buzz around him. His personality, a solid fighter.”
Originally, the fight between Brunson and Till was scheduled to take place in England but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic nixed those plans with the card now happening at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas instead.
That was another example of the UFC building around Till’s appeal with his home country audience, and truth be told, Brunson was actually looking forward to the atmosphere.
“I was warming to it,” Brunson said. “I was embracing it. I was a little disappointed when I found out it wasn’t going to be in London because through this MMA stuff, I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve fought in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, was supposed to fight in Germany. So yeah, I haven’t fought in the U.K., so I was kind of looking forward to it. Then when I didn’t get to play the spoiler role, I was a little upset but it is what it is.”
In a strange way, Brunson could have taken on a higher ranked opponent in his hunt to eventually get into title contention but facing Till might actually do more for his career.
Considering the attention Till has received from Adesanya and his overall name value in the UFC, Brunson is well aware that sometimes attention and hype matters more than a number next to your name.
“Beating Darren Till can lead to bigger and better things,” Brunson explained. “He’s a game opponent. He’s done great at welterweight, came up to middleweight, had some quality wins, beat [Kelvin] Gastelum when Gastelum was right off a title shot with a close fight with Izzy (Israel Adesanya).
“A fresh face, a new guy that Izzy hasn’t fought. But make no mistakes, it’s my time. I know what I have in front of me and I know what I’ve got to get done.”
On his current undefeated streak, Brunson has looked better than ever while fixing many of the mistakes that haunted him in past losses.
Perhaps more importantly than anything else, the 37-year-old middleweight contender has started to focus more and more on his wrestling, which has always been one of the strongest weapons in his entire arsenal.
Unfortunately, Brunson got away from his grappling after a couple of highlight-reel knockouts, but now he’s not even attempting to hide his strategy for Till or anybody else facing him in the octagon.
“He’s a little crafty on the ground, but yeah definitely, when it comes to the grappling I’m a black belt in [Brazilian jiu-jitsu] and an All-American wrestler,” Brunson said. “I like my chances on the ground. I think I do a lot of damage and mass work on the ground.
“I know he’s going to be worried about [takedowns]. If he’s not, he better be. That’s definitely going to open up some things. That’s the thing about being a complete martial artist and continuing to work on your skill set, you can be a threat in all different areas. That’s the part of the game plan, making sure we’re a threat everywhere. Just making it count.”
All talk aside, Brunson is just staying ready to deal with whatever happens on fight night and he’s not concerned about any of the buzz surrounding Till, much less a possible title bout against Adesanya in the future.
“None of the hype is gonna bother me,” Brunson said. “I know what I’ve got to do to get done. The funny thing about it is I’m not as crazy as an underdog as I was in my last three or four fights so that’s funny to me. I know what I’ve got to get done.
“I know what’s in front of me. I know where Darren Till’s good. He’s a game opponent. Pretty much go back to that wrestling thing — I’ve got to break him. That’s just it.”