UFC veteran and #6 ranked middleweight Derek Brunson will enter UFC 230 as a +280 underdog on some oddsmakers books to surging contender, Israel Adesanya.
Adesanya, ranked #9, is still undefeated in his professional MMA career and coming off an impressive win over Brad Tavares but pegging him as a -380 favorite, a virtual lock, is a bit of an overreaction. Israel Adesanya has proven to be a World Class fighter with unmatched striking and no one should have an issue with him being a favorite in this fight. That does not mean, however, that Derek Brunson should be an afterthought.
Fear the quick knockout
Power has been both Derek Brunson’s friend and his enemy throughout his MMA career. Eight of his last nine fights have ended with either a KO or TKO in the first round. The only exception is a unanimous decision loss to Anderson Silva that the majority of the MMA community believed Brunson won. This shows that he can go the distance with an elite striker and hold his own. Still, attempting to take on the long and explosive Adesanya for three full rounds of kickboxing would be unwise.
Time and time again we have seen Brunson put away opponents in the blink of an eye. During those nine fights, he put away Uriah Hall, Sam Alvey, Ed Herman, Roan Carneiro, Dan Kelly, and Lyoto Machida. All came within three minutes of the first round. Adesanya will always have the striking advantage in this one but all it takes is one ill-advised strike for Brunson to counter with a haymaker that ends this fight.
Derek Brunson has great potential as a striker but he tends to put himself in danger in big fights. The best example of this is his fight against Robert Whittaker. Brunson had Whittaker hurt but got too overzealous in his effort to get the finish. Eventually, he quite literally ran at Whittaker with his chin in the air. This set him up for the left hand that ended the fight. Standing in the pocket got him head-kicked by Jacare and of course, standing in front of Yoel Romero proved to be a huge mistake. If Brunson can avoid these kinds of mental errors against Adesanya, he can put himself in a position to land a huge shot and take the win.
Bring back the wrestling
Because of all the knockouts, it is easy to forget that Derek Brunson has a prestigious wrestling background. He competed for UNC-Pembroke where he was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American. That skill-set will be huge against Adesanya. The smart money says that unless Brunson hurts him early, Adesanya will get the better of the striking and build momentum throughout the fight. If Brunson can get the fight to the ground and secure top position, he might be able to keep it there and wear his opponent out.
We saw Israel Adesanya get taken down multiple times in his fight against Marvin Vettori and briefly against Brad Tavares. To Stylebender’s credit, he got up each time he was brought to the mat but the way he did so showed an opening for Brunson. Adesanya got off the mat through pure athleticism and explosion against Vettori. This will not be enough against Derek Brunson. As a blue belt in jiu-jitsu with no wrestling experience, getting smothered is a real possibility for Adesanya.
Israel Adesanya claims that he has been submitting his training partners and could do the same to Brunson. Despite his blue belt status, this is a real possibility. Just like on the feet, Derek Brunson cannot force the matter on the ground. Maintaining top position and grinding out a few minutes to take away the stamina of his opponent will do wonders for his chances when they return to the feet. If he is patient and catches Adesanya trying to explode to his feet, he could trap him in mount and finish the fight. The danger that is Derek Brunson is something that deserves respect.
This fight is not the mismatch it is advertised to be. With two dangerous fighters locked in the cage with pure knockout power and different backgrounds, anything can happen.