Ottawa, Ont. — After fighting some of the best, Derek Brunson knows how he’ll choose his next opponent.
He’s going to take his time to think about it.
Saturday’s co-main event for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Ottawa card at the Canadian Tire Centre, will feature Brunson taking on Mississauga, Ont. native Elias Theodorou.
Following the bout, the 35-year-old looks forward to a quick return to training, having suffered back-to-back first round knockout losses last year to now interim UFC middleweight (185 lbs) champion Israel Adesanya, and sixth ranked Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
Those aren’t the only marquee names with whom the Wilmington, North Carolina native has entered the octagon.
Before his two fight skid, Brunson notched the biggest win of his career with a first round knockout of former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in 2017.
Prior to the Machida victory, the southpaw endured losses to arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Anderson Silva, and current UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
It’s clear Brunson isn’t scared to take on the elite, but he feels the rest of his division doesn’t share the same sentiment.
“I’ve been around the block,” said Brunson, at Thursday’s media availability. “It’s funny — guys don’t fight who I fight. I came in and I was like ‘Hey I’m going to fight everybody’ somebody says something to me I’m like ‘Cool, we’re going to fight.’
“That’s just always been my mentality where you have guys in the division ducking each other or pulling out and making excuses.
“Usually those fights get rebooked, but they don’t right now. So whenever somebody asks me who I’m going to fight next, my answer is going to be, ‘I’m going to let some of these guys fight each other’ and sit back, train and keep getting better.”
Now ranked ninth by the promotion in his division, Brunson has found a new location down south to hone his skills.
After the three-time Division II All-American wrestler from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke opened his own gym back home, he felt a move needed to be made.
Brunson then turned to famed striking coach Henri Hooft, at the Hard Knocks 365 gym in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Hard Knocks 365 is home to a number of UFC title holders that give the former cheerleader a different perspective.
“I had to make some changes this camp, go out to Florida – be away from the family and working with guys who can push me,” said Brunson.
“When I’m at my [old] gym I’m like a super star every day and when I’m there [Hard Knocks 365] nobody’s a superstar. Even the champions look at their mistakes and holes in their game so the next fights, they don’t happen.”
Going into Saturday, Brunson, who’s amassed 11 knockouts in 18 wins over his MMA career, not unlike the UFC’s title holders with whom he trains, has reflected on some past mistakes in the cage.
“I was looking back on my four fight knockout streak — knocking everybody out there’s was things I could’ve done there where I was a little bit too reckless. There’s a lot of film going around so when you’re doing things that work, people are going to start timing you and picking up things.
“[It’s] holding me accountable.”
It’s a lesson that Brunson will take into Saturday’s fight, knowing his opponent, and not looking past him.
Theodorou has fought 10 times under the UFC banner, with all but two that have gone the distance.
“He’s not difficult to figure out,” he said. “I think he’s okay with winning a decision and a point fight — he’s not going to put himself at risk too much. I heard him say he’s content with his life, so I’m thinking ‘He’s happy with where he’s at’ everybody’s always looking for that next opportunity but I know he’s okay with getting a decision.
“If you chase a guy like that you play into his game and can turn him into a knockout artist — so it’s about preparing and approaching a fight the right way.”