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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC on FOX 27’s Derek Brunson

Physical bruiser and powerful wrestler, Derek Brunson, will rematch Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, Ronaldo Souza, this Saturday (Jan. 27, 2018) at UFC on FOX 27 inside Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It’s been the better part of six years since Brunson last met Souza inside Strikeforce’s Hexagon. Then just two years into his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Brunson charged forward with a left hand and left his chin exposed, allowing “Jacare” to crack his chin with a heavy right hand. In the time since, Brunson has developed significantly and found confidence in his kickboxing. He has since scored six knockout victories, including his two most recent fights.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Brunson moved quickly from the regional scene to Strikeforce, and that higher level of competition saw Brunson rely more heavily on his wrestling. It took a couple years before Brunson really grew comfortable, but the Southpaw found his rhythm in 2015 and has since produced some stellar results.

As a physical fighter with some great attributes, Brunson very often looks to overwhelm his foe with raw aggression. He’s large and powerful enough that it’s a viable option, especially since he’s a hard man to take down or control in the clinch. If Brunson wants a fire fight, his opponent has little choice but to engage, and Brunson has come out ahead in every slugfest aside from his bout with Whittaker.

In one of the easiest examples, Brunson drove Sam Alvey into the fence without much trouble. From there, he took a step back and began whipping left hands toward 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 down his opponent. With few other options remaining, Alvey tried to stand his ground and trust in his beloved right hook counter. Alvey hits hard, but Brunson had momentum on his side, and his punches proved far more damaging (GIF).

Brunson loves to charge his opponents with lunging lefts. He’s definitely open to counter punches, but that’s a risk he’s proven willing to take. If he can land at a 1:1 ratio with his opponent, odds are that his foe will fall first. Outside of the occasional reckless aggression, Brunson has made use of some different setups to land the left hand that allow him to quickly close distance. These tricks are the core of his kickboxing game, so once again we’ll be taking a closer look in this week’s technique highlight, which is now updated to talk about his most recent knockout.

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). Opposite a Southpaw in Anderson Silva, Brunson did a nice job of staying active at range by kicking Silva’s leg.

It’s true that Brunson is quite hittable. Even in his last fight opposite Machida — which saw Brunson at his most patient — “The Dragon” landed just about every strike he sprung into. It’s definitely not an idle trait, but lunging forward is very much the core of Brunson’s stand up game. Unless he rewrites his whole approach, that’s unlikely to change.


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 takedown that 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. He's also able to hide the shot behind his left, as the forward movement/lunge goes right into the shot. Even when Brunson’s shot is sprawled on, he’s often able to continue to drive and reshoot until he takes top position anyway.

Opposite Yoel Romero, Brunson showcased likely the most impressive wrestling of his career. Brunson found more success than anyone else against the Olympian, controlling the first two rounds with strong takedowns.

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.

Brunson's double dragged Romero to the mat in the second. Romero likes to utilize odd, awkward or slow movements to lull his opponents into a false sense of security, but it allowed Brunson get in deep on the hips as Romero lackadaisically backed away from a punch. Brunson's shots and punches can cover a surprising amount of distance, and that surprise found Romero 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 tested 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.

Brazilan Jiu-Jitsu

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 from what we’ve seen, 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 from 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. Instead of just controlling his foe's head, Brunson switched to a guillotine choke, forcing Larkin to drop to his back to avoid the submission.


Whether we’re talking about analysis or actual combat, Brunson is a difficult fighter. He has immense physical gifts and tricky set ups, but he’s also known for abandoning all strategy to just go for it. Brunson could end this bout with a single sledgehammer left or run directly into the right hand a second time at literally any moment, which is the reason his fights are both frustrating and fascinating.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion 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.

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