Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight scrappers Derek Brunson and Roan Carneiro will duel this Sunday (Feb. 21, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 83 inside Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Outside of his loss to Yoel Romero -- alleged enhancements or not -- Brunson has performed very well thus far inside the Octagon. He's won five of six fights, including three victories inside the first round.
Carneiro has been in the game for many years, including a stint in UFC from 2007 to 2008. More recently, he earned some recognition by winning a one-night, three-fight BattleGrounds MMA tournament and returning to UFC in impressive fashion, quickly submitting Mark Munoz.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Lorenz Larkin (UFC 177), Sam Alvey (UFC Fight Night 73), Ed Herman (UFC 185)
Key Losses: Yoel Romero (UFC Fight Night 35), Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: "Rousey vs Kaufman")
Keys to Victory: Brunson has been very successful in transitioning from a wrestler to a fighter. He's finished the majority of his wins, and he's capable of both submitting and knocking out his opponents. In fact, Brunson's striking and aggression have really improved lately and are a major part of his recent success.
In this bout, Brunson may want to rely on his kickboxing early on. His opponent is a third-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, and while Brunson has never had an issue with being submitted from top position, avoiding any early grappling exchanges would be a smart choice.
Furthermore, since Carneiro is not much of a knockout puncher, Brunson should look to bully his opponent. He cannot get sloppy and give up a takedown, but Brunson can look to pressure his opponent, throw in combination, and commit hard to any well setup power shots.
If Carneiro hangs tough, Brunson can look for takedowns later in the fight. As the pace slows and both men sweat, grappling will become a far safer option for Brunson.
Key Wins: Mark Munoz (UFC 184), Brock Larson (Battleground MMA 5)
Key Losses: Ryo Chonan (UFC 88)
Keys to Victory: Carneiro appears to be something of a late bloomer. Though his career started in the year 2000, he really hit his stride in the last few years, winning eight of his last nine fights.
It's a strange situation to be sure.
Regardless, this is a huge bout for "Jucao," and he needs to make the most of it if he's going to go on any sort of run in the Middleweight division. At 37 years old, it's almost a must-win bout.
To defeat Brunson, Carneiro needs to earn his opponent's respect on the feet. Brunson has proven that if his opponent is very defensive that he'll start out violently, which led him to knock out his last two opponents in less than three minutes combined.
While that doesn't mean that brawling with Brunson is ideal, Carneiro simply cannot let himself be bullied. If he can earn his opponent's respect, Carneiro can take the fight into deep water and look for opportunities to trip his opponent down to the mat.
Bottom Line: This is an important match up for the Middleweight division and will determine where both men head from here for the foreseeable future.
Brunson is on the very edge of being recognized as a top contender. He's just outside of the Top 10 as well, and a win here could be enough to push him past both milestones. At the very least, it will earn him a high-profile match up that would further his career.
On the other hand, an unexpected loss here would derail all the momentum that Brunson has built up. That's not to say he couldn't build back up to this point, but it would take another win streak or an exceptional performance.
As mentioned, this is a hugely important bout for Carneiro. If he wins, then he's successfully taken out one of the fastest rising men in the division and deserves his own step up. Now is the time for him to make a run, and he cannot afford any loses if that's going to happen.
A loss likely ends Carneiro's hopes of being a contender, as he most likely doesn't have a ton of time left in his career. On the bright side, Middleweight always needs tough, consistent fighters to occupy the middle of the division, and that's a role "Jucao" could be suited for.
At UFC Fight Night 83, Derek Brunson and Roan Carneiro will go to war. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust is settled?