This Wednesday (Jan. 15, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweights Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson will clash on the main card of UFC Fight Night 35 from The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia.
Still new to mixed martial arts (MMA), Romero comes in on the heels of two straight knockout wins. His most recent victory was a third round stoppage of Ronny Markes at UFC Fight Night 31: "Fight for Troops 3" in Nov. 2013. Prior to that, Romero exploded onto the UFC scene with a devastating flying knee on Clifford Starks at UFC on Fox 7.
Brunson also fought at "Fight for Troops 3," submitting Brian Houston with a rear-naked choke. He remains undefeated in UFC after beating Chris Leben in his promotional debut at UFC 155. The well-rounded Brunson is looking to prove that he deserves a bout with one of the top 185-pound fighters in the world.
Romero will provide a perfect litmus test to gauge if Brunson is ready for that. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both fighters:
Record: 6-1 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Ronny Markes (UFC Fight Night 31), Clifford Starks (UFC on Fox 7)
Key Losses: Rafael Cavalcante (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov)
Record: 11-2 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Chris Leben (UFC 155), Brian Houston (UFC Fight Night 31)
Key Losses: Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman), Kendall Grove (ShoFight 20)
Both Romero and Brunson are highly accomplished wrestlers. Representing Cuba, Romero won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Brunson was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American at University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
But Romero has shown to be far more explosive when it comes to striking, something that could be the X-factor in this bout.
Brunson is no slouch on his feet with four knockout finishes of his own. If he wants to derail Romero's hype, he'll have to use his length to keep his explosive opponent at bay. Every single one of Romero's fights has ended via knockout, including his only loss to former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ "Feijao."
Even though Romero has a polished mat resume, Brunson may actually be better off looking for a few takedown attempts. Anything that can stop Romero from unleashing his brutal combinations will help. If Brunson engages in a slugfest, it could be a very short night.
He may not have a choice, however. The power-slugging Romero has a chance to announce himself as a future player at 185 pounds if he can notch a third impressive win in nine months.
These two are at similar points in their careers, turning this bout into a crossroads of sorts. Romero has more sheer power but it's far from wise to sleep on Brunson. Look for a brawl to favor Romero and a grinding affair to tip the scales in Brunson's favor, with the winner earning a spot in the Top-15.