OTTAWA — Facing a tricky opponent, Derek Brunson’s greatest enemy on Saturday may have been himself.
Overall it was a productive night for the 35-year-old middleweight. He defeated Elias Theodorou by unanimous decision in the UFC Ottawa co-main event, snapped a two-fight skid, and proved he could win on the scorecards for the first time since August 2014.
However, for a brief moment in the third round, Brunson had to mentally pause and consider his actions to avoid accidentally spoiling his own win. Brunson got hold of the elusive Theodorou with three minutes remaining in the fight and picked him up for a thunderous slam, one that he realized could have dire consequences.
During a post-fight scrum, Brunson recalled a similar situation from last June when Jarred Brooks knocked himself unconscious while attempting to slam Jose Torres, and he was determined to avoid that fate.
“That was my exact thought,” Brunson said. “I picked him up, I locked my hands, I was like, oh, that kid—I think it was Jarred Brooks or something like that—he went, he swung, he dunked him and knocked himself out. I was like, if I knock myself out, it’s gonna be real bad. So I swung his legs and I swam back over and I got north-south position.
“But yeah, I wanted to make sure I didn’t knock myself out. That wouldn’t look good. I would have made ‘Sportscenter Not Top 10’ or whatever. That would have been bad.”
It’s normal for Brunson fights to end in knockouts, though more often than not in his UFC run it’s Brunson who has been delivering the KO blows. He went winless in 2018, losing via strikes to Israel Adesanya and Ronaldo Souza, but prior to that slump he’d racked up finishes of Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall, and Roan Carneiro, among others.
Brunson knows he can finish fast, which is why he was so pleased that he was able to show a different side of himself against Theodorou.
“It’s funny, I’m a knockout guy. In my previous wins, I think all of my last seven wins I got were knockouts in the first round,” Brunson said. “To come out here and get a decision after a rough year, it feels good. Now I’ve got that built in my mind. I can go the distance with a guy who’s known for cardio, who moves around a lot, pretty much had to chase a little bit. So I can take my time and be patient, I know I can knock guys out still.”
Like in most of his fights, Theodorou employed a style that made him difficult to hit or engage in any prolonged stretches of offense. Brunson decided that waiting and countering in the early going and then pushing the pace later would be the best way to combat Theodorou and the judges agreed, rewarding Brunson with a 30-27 score and a pair of 29-28s.
Brunson sees his win over Theodorou as a positive sign that he’s still learning new tricks at this stage of his career.
“You’ve got to keep evolving. I heard him saying all week it’s checkers vs. chess,” Brunson said. “I’m a smart guy, I like to think of myself as a smart guy, but sometimes I go out there and do a lot of dumb stuff. So to actually come back and get a smart win, I feel really good about that.”