If No. 13-ranked UFC Middleweight contender Derek Brunson could go back in time, he wouldn't have resigned with his current employer, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
That's not to say that the former All-American wrestler isn't happy with his ZUFFA tenure, but he would have very much liked a chance at free agency, which many of his fellow fighters have enjoyed as of late.
"I resigned like a dummy [laughs]. Next contract I want to fight it out. That's how you find your worth. Start a bidding war or whatever," Brunson told MMAmania.
Brunson, 32, is an explosive wrestler with a stand-up game that's rapidly approaching his world-class abilities on the mat. Three consecutive wins, including two straight knockouts over Sam Alvey and Ed Herman, have the North Carolina native concentrated on a title push, but also his finances.
The Strikeforce import watched good friend and Jackson-Wink MMA teammate Alistair Overeem similarly rack up the wins, except he made his plans of riding off into free agency pretty clear before his second-round knockout of former 265-pound titleholder Junior dos Santos back in December.
"Dude's about to get paid [laughs]. We laughed about it. That's the situation you want to be in," Brunson emphasized. "With MMA, you can make okay money, not great money. Last year, I made okay money. You need to be better with your finances. Force your manager to do his job; his job is to negotiate your fight purse."
He might be kicking himself now, but Brunson's future ultimately lies in his hands. Fighting will force company brass to show their hand early, or allow you to move on to greener pastures.
For Brunson, his latest six-month layoff wasn't his own doing. He was perfectly healthy and ready to compete. What it came down to was finding a ranked opponent, who wasn't scheduled for a bout, or injured.
"I've just been training and getting better. Right now, I'm working the cardio and everything is coming together at the right time," Brunson said. "I train twice a day, but the cardio -- I'm not doing any cardio when I don't have a fight scheduled. I'm working a lot of technique."
In his rather short Octagon tenure, Brunson has achieved a 5-1 record. Known as a wrestler first before anything else, it's come as a surprise to many that the Albuquerque-based fighter has been tagging opponents with his lightning fast hands.
Brunson knew finishes would come his way after he put in the hard work with his team at the Jackson-Wink Academy, as well as in his hometown base camp in Wilmington N.C.
"It's just the process. I came into MMA as a wrestler and I'm a hard worker, so I put a lot of time into bettering my craft. The competition is a lot harder so it was going to be a lot harder to showcase it against that level of guys," Brunson admitted. "I've got a great team back at home in Wilmington, North Carolina, where I live at. I have my cousin, who holds mits for me. When I'm there, I have a boxing coach, Andre Thompson, who's been boxing forever. I have a sparring partner, who's in Bellator and has fought for UFC a couple times. I just kind of piece it together when I'm in North Carolina."
There's nothing like being back home to put the mind at ease, sure, but Brunson would be in denial if he failed to mention the camaraderie he's built over the last six years with Mike Winkeljohn and some of his peers down in New Mexico.
Alistair: let me get that Ramen Noodle— Derek Brunson (@DerekBrunson) February 3, 2016
Barber: you sure
Alistair: yes please @Alistairovereem pic.twitter.com/Ed3PFbL0gK
"I've been working alongside guys like Carlos Condit and Jon Jones, watching those guys for years, and even Andrei Arlovski, who went from five devastating knockouts in a row to turning his career around. It's a team mentality," Brunson explained. "Me and Alistair get together four to five days a week and play video games, poker and hangout."
On Feb. 21, 2016, inside Consol Energy Center, Brunson will have the opportunity to pile on another win to his already impressive resume when he meets the returning Roan Carneiro, who has been on the shelf following elbow surgery last August.
Carneiro, a renowned jiu-jitsu ace, is currently sitting behind Brunson in the official middleweight rankings and the first thing on the latter's mind. However, a quick victory over Carneiro would allow Brunson to continue climbing the rankings and bypass a man that he feels he was on his way to a victory over in embattled contender Yoel Romero.
"Yoel's a cheater. Like I've said, I've never done any drugs. But c'mon, this guy knows he's been juicing his whole career," Brunson maintained. "Everybody else knew it. That's my only blemish in the UFC. I was pretty much outclassing him in every area. These guys who go out there and cheat ... their tendons are stronger. I mean, I head-kicked him. I took him down, slammed him and he was able to just push and stand back up. I believe in working for whatever you want in life."
Defeating Carneiro won't be so simple, as the 37-year-old from American Top Team (ATT) Atlanta has also hit his stride, having won six consecutive tilts (3-3 UFC overall). Without giving too much of his gameplan away, Brunson told me that "finishing" his opponent is the only suitable route to a victory at this stage of his professional career.
"There's no secret, I'm going in there to get finishes," Brunson said. "The quicker the better. We're not getting paid by the hour. The quicker I get him out of there, the quicker I get home to my little ones."
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