Powerful wrestler, Derek Brunson, is set to go to war with Karate specialist, Robert Whittaker, this Saturday (Nov. 26, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 101 inside Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
Brunson has been a physical talent since the inception of his career, but his skills have really come a long way in the last several years. There’s a reason he has finished his last four fights via knockout, and that streak has allowed him to break into the Middleweight Top 10. Whittaker is in a similar position, as his recent win streak allowed him to rise through the ranks. To take out the Aussie, Brunson will either need an early knockout or to push through and win a five round war.
Either way, he’ll need his full arsenal of skills, so let’s take a look.
Brunson is a large, athletic Southpaw. He spent most of his early career throwing power but relying on takedowns, and it’s only recently that’s he has really found confidence in his hands. More than any technical development, that confidence is the real key.
Brunson has a habit of simply overwhelming his opponents. He’s large and powerful enough that it’s a viable option, especially since he’s a hard man to takedown or control on the clinch. In short, if Brunson wants a fire fight, his opponent has little choice but to engage.
Case in point, Brunson drove Sam Alvey into the fence without much trouble. From there, he took a step back and began whipping left hands towards his opponent like he was throwing fastballs. With his back to the fence, Alvey couldn’t retreat effectively (though he tried), nor could he take his opponent down. With few other options remaining, Alvey tried to stand his ground and trust in his beloved right hook counter, but he instead hit the ground.
Brunson loves to charge his opponents with lunging lefts. He’s definitely open to counter punches, but he’s so strong and durable that it hasn’t really cost him all that much. Nowadays, he’s willing to take a punch to land one, and that’s a match up that very often favors him.
All that said, Brunson does have some tricky setups to score his left hand, and I analyzed a pair of them in the video below.
Aside from his ability to brutally maul his foe from the clinch or leap into left hands, Brunson does have a pretty strong kicking game. Since he is facing mostly Orthodox opponents, the opening for a hard kick to the body or head is almost always available. He badly rocked Brian Houston with a high kick, and he also landed clean on Yoel Romero (GIF).
Like his stand up attack, Brunson has both subtle techniques to his wrestling game and the complete opposite. Either way, the three-time Division II All-American has proven to be a very effective wrestler on both offense and defense.
Brunson has the type of powerful double leg that simply overpowers opponents, either smashing them to the mat or allowing him to lift against the fence. For that reason, he's often able to finish the shot without much of a set up, and he's willing to dive into the takedown despite the risk of it being stopped. That said, he's also able to hide the shot behind his left, as the forward movement goes right into the shot.
Opposite Yoel Romero, Brunson showcased likely the most impressive wrestling of his career. As Romero proved just a couple weeks ago in his fight with Chris Weidman, the Olympic silver medalist is remarkably difficult to take or hold down.
Brunson found more success than anyone else.
In the first round, it was Brunson's powerful clinch game that helped him control the Cuban. Romero attempted to land his excellent inside trip a couple times, but Brunson was able to stand tall and continue digging for underhooks. Eventually, he was able to secure the back clinch and slam Romero to the mat.
It was Brunson's double that dragged Romero to the mat in the second. Romero likes to utilize odd, awkward or slow movement to lull his opponents into a false sense of security, but it allowed Brunson to hide a strong shot behind his big left hand. Brunson's shots and punches can cover a surprising amount of distance, which allowed him to get in on a shot when Romero was completely out of position to defend or sprawl.
Opposite Lorenz Larkin, Brunson found success by chaining takedown attempts together. Larkin's range control and athleticism make him a difficult man to drag down with just a single shot but more extended wrestling exchanges test his technical skill.
For example, Brunson landed his first shot by transitioning into a single leg as Larkin sprawled out. As Larkin shot his hips back, he failed to recognize that Brunson was changing position and direction. Similarly, Brunson's double leg failed him in the third round, but he immediately transitioned into the clinch and tripped his opponent to the mat.
Defensively, Brunson has proven extremely difficult to take down, as he's one of those difficult fighters who's both an experienced technical wrestler and physical powerhouse. Most of the time, a shot opposite Brunson has a similar result to running face-first into a brick wall.
A purple belt, Brunson has some pretty solid "wrestler jiu-jitsu." In short, that means Brunson is unlikely to pull off a butterfly sweep or armbar from his back, but he's tough as hell to submit and will snatch a neck given the slightest opportunity.
Case in point, all three of Brunson's submission victories came via rear-naked choke. There's not a ton to analyze in this situation: Brunson overpower or dropped his opponent, transitioned into back mount, and then squeezed the life out of his foe.
In a more recent example, Brunson showcased a nice blend of wrestling and jiu-jitsu to force Larkin to the mat. After failing on a couple takedowns in the clinch, Brunson snapped Larkin down with a front headlock. Now controlling his foe's head, Brunson switched to a guillotine choke, forcing Larkin to drop to his back to avoid the submission.
Brunson has the bad luck of attempting to ascend into the Middleweight elite at its most cluttered moment. Brunson and Whittaker have earned a step up in competition rather than a match up with fellow rising stars, but only one man will be able to make himself a true contender. Opposite a fighter of the same generation as himself, Brunson will be forced to shine or take a step backward.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.