“That was the perfect fight for me and that’s what I needed to get back in the win column,” Brunson said of his June knockout of Dan Kelly, which only took 76 seconds. “I was stacking up against some of the top guys in my division and ultimately when it was said and done, my hand wasn’t getting raised. So it was time to take a step back and understand what I needed to regain my momentum.”
What he needed to do was tone down the outbreak of the wrestler’s disease that had broken out. In other words, he needed to remember that he still had a wrestling game and didn’t need to just punch everybody, and that at this level, it’s not always how you attack, but when. Kelly, winner of four straight heading into the Auckland bout, turned out to be the perfect foil.
“Honestly, I see myself going into every fight and knocking everybody out,” Brunson said. “Is that exactly how every fight is gonna go? No. With that Dan Kelly fight, I saw myself knocking him out, but I also saw the possibility of a tough, grueling fight where he was trying to impose his will, as he did with everybody else. So I was definitely expecting a tough fight, but whenever you can get those quick knockouts, it’s definitely relaxing.”
And it made the long flight back to North Carolina that much better.
This Saturday, Brunson returns to the Octagon for a main event assignment against Lyoto Machida in Sao Paulo. The Wilmington native is no stranger to being on the road, and that even goes for his fight prep, which takes him to Atlanta once a week to work on his Muay Thai game. It can be an exhausting price to pay, but the 33-year-old is making it work.
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“My daughters are getting older, so I’m getting great, quality family time in North Carolina and I also go down to Atlanta to Madhouse Muay Thai once a week,” said Brunson, who used to spend his camps in Albuquerque with the Jackson-Wink MMA squad. “So I go down on a Tuesday morning and I’ll come back on Wednesday at noon. I stay a day and a half there and work on my Muay Thai, so I’m not missing much. I’m missing the individual time with Greg (Jackson), but I’ve been fighting for a long time now and I understand the game and I understand what I need to work on, and I’m just trying to up my skills that I’ve been lacking when it comes to the standup.”
If Brunson – who has ended his last five wins by knockout – is adding skills to his standup attack, that’s a scary proposition for his opponents at 185 pounds, but more importantly, his main focus these days are on the intangibles that can’t be drilled or taught.
“I know how to fight, I know the game plan, I know the skills it’s gonna take and I have all that,” he said. “It’s a matter of the small things. They’re not really teachable, but you have to drill them in your head, so I’ve been focusing on things like taking my time, finding my openings and understanding when and where to explode. Those are the small parts of the game that I’m working on.”
And while the No. 7-ranked contender’s main focus is on doing this for himself, at the same time, he’s setting an example for the fighters in his gym who hope to follow in his footsteps.
“I’ve got my gym going, I’ve got a couple young fighters in there and I’m definitely trying to show these guys the way and show them that they can make this lucrative if they invest in themselves and train the right way,” Brunson said. “So that’s definitely a goal to get the next wave of guys ready to take that next step and make sure they’re training the right way and seeing how it’s supposed to be done.”
And what better way to show off what he’s been doing than to pull off a big win over the former light heavyweight champion this weekend? Of course, it’s easier said than done, especially since the always tough to decipher Machida may be even more so since he’s coming off a two-year layoff. But Brunson has found his solution, and that’s to prepare for the best “Dragon” possible.
“The whole time, I’m expecting the Machida I’ve seen that was at his best,” he said. “If I’m expecting that, and I’m at my best, then I feel my best is better. I’m a lot to deal with when it comes to power and speed, so I don’t care what Machida shows up. I just know I’m showing up and I’m looking to put the hurt on someone.”
And in 2018, Brunson expects to make his move and help bring some clarity to a wild weight class.
“There’s a lot going on (in the middleweight division), so I’ve just got to stay the course and keep training and be willing to fight.”