Derek Brunson’s late career surge is showing no signs of coming to an end anytime soon.
The 37-year-old middleweight contender, a betting underdog entering Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event in Las Vegas, recorded his fifth straight victory in an impressive third-round submission of former 170-pound title challenger Darren Till.
Brunson (23-7) used his wrestling to control the majority of the fight, including a dominant first round in which he did repeated damage to the face of Till with punches and hard elbows. But it was a key takedown in Round 3, just as Till began to surge and put together his strikes, that quickly led to the finish.
“I’m tired of these guys not mentioning my name [in the UFC middleweight title picture],” Brunson said. “I have been busting my butt for four years after my [last] loss to get to this point.”
A native of North Carolina, it’s the work Brunson has done at Sanford MMA in south Florida over the past few years that has rejuvenated his career. He hasn’t lost since a first-round TKO to current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and continues to ruin the plans of one young 185-pound fighter after another who enters the cage against him with title hopes.
Till (18-4-1) was hoping this fight would be the one to snap a recent skid of having lost three of four — all against elite competition — entering the fight. Instead, the 28-year-old from Liverpool, England, will need to go back to the drawing board once again.
Brunson revealed after the fight that he was hurt throughout much of training camp, with his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, telling ESPN on Saturday that his fighter suffered torn cartilage and fractured ribs three weeks ago.
The injuries never slowed Brunson inside the cage, however, as he responded to a trio of clean left hands landed by Till in Round 1 by changing levels to score a takedown before unleashing heavy ground and pound. Although Till also spent much of Round 2 on his back despite stuffing two early takedown attempts, he largely avoided damage.
Till amped up his aggression to open Round 3 and picked Brunson apart with left hands. Brunson appeared on the verge of being dropped before a somewhat desperate takedown attempt succeeded and Brunson quickly transition to full mount.
A flurry of punches forced Till to give up his back and Brunson quickly produced a tap via rear-naked choke at 2:13 of the round.
“I didn’t feel that much [damage in Round 3],” Brunson said. “I thought I was doing good work. I have a great team behind me. I was injured all camp so I wasn’t sure how I would be in the standup. I am really good on the ground and I wanted to showcase it.”
With Adesanya’s rematch with former champion Robert Whittaker likely moving to 2022 given COVID-19 protocols abroad, Brunson said he was willing to sit out and hope he gets the call to face the winner.
“I’m not broke, I will sit and wait,” Brunson said. “I know Izzy has a fight coming up so I will sit and wait. It will take five to six months and get my body right.”