LAS VEGAS — There’s no other way to describe Derek Brunson’s mixed martial arts career than highly successful. He’s won 20 of his 27 career bouts and has finished 14 of his 20 wins.
He’s been in with the best middleweights of his time, including current champion Israel Adesanya, former champions Robert Whittaker and Anderson Silva, and has beaten ex-light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
But as good as it has been, it could have been oh, so much more. Life has often gotten in the way and Brunson’s career has suffered as a result.
“It’s been the preparation,” Brunson said candidly when asked why he hasn’t been able to take it to the next level despite all of the physical tools. “I try to stay at home. I have some stuff going on, like custody of my kids, making sure they were OK. There’s been a couple of camps that I stayed home in a big fight and took care of my kids, which is the most important thing.
“If I had things set up a little more at home, I’d have been able to go away to camp. Things like that hindered a lot of my fights. If you look at my camps, when I trained out at Jackson’s [in Albuquerque, New Mexico], I never lost a fight. Or maybe one. Since I’ve been training in Florida, I’m 2-0. The only fights I’ve lost are when I’ve stayed at home.”
On Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+), he’ll meet yet another elite opponent when he takes on hotshot prospect Edmen Shahbazyan in the main event at Apex. This time, he’s been able to put the time into training and he expects the results to show.
Though he may have been able to win a few more fights, clearly, he did the right thing when he put his children above anything else. He showed himself to be the kind of man we all should aspire to be, putting family concerns over all.
But this is a guy who has the skills to be more than just another contender. He punches very hard; he’s quick, he’s got great wrestling and he’s very comfortable in all areas of the game.
He’s also had his share of bad luck; his fight with Silva went to a decision, and while the legendary “Spider” got the nod, many felt Brunson deserved to win. He fought Jacare Souza just as he was getting over a bad case of the flu.
“Sports are sometimes unforgiving, and it is what it is,” Brunson said. “Take my fight with Jacare. I had the flu and I went to the doctor and I had to get nursed back. I didn’t train for like 10 days and I fought four or five days later. For the Israel fight, I was home. I was going to go away from camp, but we had a [hurricane] coming. I was like, ‘OK, do I leave my family home during a hurricane?’ I stayed home, and the hurricane hit pretty bad and I was without power for 10 days and didn’t train for seven. It was all makeshift.
“It’s not an excuse, but I’d say I didn’t perform well in the big fights because I wasn’t prepared properly. Sometimes you have to make decisions in life and I chose what I felt was best. Did my career suffer because of the choices I made? Yeah, for sure. But facing the same circumstances, I’d do it all again.”
Though he’s 36, he’s in magnificent shape and said because he’s never been a partier and hasn’t abused his body, he feels he can fight at a high level for several more years to come.
And although he’s done much in this sport, he feels the best for him is yet to come.
“I know what I’m capable of when I’m prepared and dialed in,” he said. “I’m a dangerous guy. I still feel like there is a lot out there for me. By no means have I written myself off. I think I’ve got a lot more left in me and you’ll see some great performances in these next couple of years.”
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