At the end of his three-round fight with future UFC Hall of Famer Anderson Silva, Wilmington’s Derek Brunson approached his legendary opponent, sitting on the mat in his corner.Silva motioned for Brunson to sit with him. Brunson did, facing the 41-year-old former champion, and, with the Brooklyn Barclay’s Center PA music pumping over the loudspeakers and the crowd screaming, the two fighters had a short conversation.Both fighters then stood. Silva reached over, took Brunson’s right hand and raised it. The greatest Middleweight in UFC history, and perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighter ever, appeared to be passing the torch.Brunson, who had a five-fight winning streak, four in a row by knockout, snapped in his last outing, seemed to have passed a major test by out-battling Silva in the co-main event of UFC 208. That meant another step on the road to a title shot against champion Michael Bisping.Then ring announcer Bruce Buffer read the scorecards, building suspense by not announcing the winner until the very end.All three judges agreed on the winner. The first had it scored 29-28, meaning a two-rounds to one advantage for the winner. The second judge had it 30-27, giving all three rounds to the same man. That was a bit of a surprise. The fight was a close one, but it was hard to make a case that Brunson swept all three rounds. The third judge agreed with the first, turning in a 29-28 score.”For your winner,” Buffer announced, “Anderson Silva!”The New York crowd, appreciating the chance to see the fighter UFC president Dana White had called his sport’s Tom Brady earlier in the week, cheered in approval.Brunson stormed out of the cage immediately and headed back to the locker room.”Everyone is telling me that I won. I feel terrible,” Brunson said afterward. “It’s not Anderson’s fault or the UFC’s fault. I took this fight on short notice and, to have this happen, is just crazy to me. I take this seriously. This is my job. I put everything into this and I got robbed. It sucks.”Brunson also vented on social media, posting, “Wow unreal I put my heart & soul out there on 3 weeks notice only to get it taken from me. I just outclassed the greatest of all time,” and “I helped save the card and did all I could on 3 weeks notice. I easily won that fight. I respect Anderson Silva but the judges got it wrong. I put my all into my career for my family this sucks! Thanks all for watching.”It’s easy to see why Brunson was frustrated. The numbers strongly indicate that he won the fight. The North Carolinian had a 127-57 advantage in punches and kicks landed. He was also more accurate, landing 69 percent of his strikes, to Silva’s 61.Brunson also hit harder, landing 73 significant strikes (i.e. hard punches or kicks) to Silva’s 47.Striking is only part of the picture, but Brunson seemed to defeat the black belt in grappling as well. He took Silva down twice and was never taken down. He was “in control” (meaning pressing Silva against the cage or on top of him on the mat) for three minutes, 52 seconds. Silva was in control for just 11 seconds in the 15 minute fight.Yet, somehow, the judges gave the fight to Silva.Brunson had knocked out three straight opponents in the first round, and he was overly aggressive in his last fight looking to add a fourth. Charging in wildly, he ran into a punch and was knocked out.Against Silva, he was much more in control and cautious, a wise strategy but one that probably hurt him on the scorecards.Neither fighter attempted a punch for the first minute of the fight. Then Brunson unveiled his strategy for the fight. Despite being widely considered the better puncher heading into the fight, he would try to out-grapple the former champ.Brunson had close to a dozen takedown attempts in the fight, shooting in at Silva’s legs. Only two were successful, but the move helped him close the distance on Silva. That helped Brunson twofold. Fighting in close quarters, he was able to avoid Silva’s flashy spinning punches and kicks from all angles, which thrilled the crowd and impressed the judges. It also allowed him to punch from close range, where Brunson found Silva surprising vulnerable to the uppercut, which he used to snap Silva’s head back time and again throughout the fight.Silva was able to counter-punch Brunson successfully whenever the younger opponent got a little too aggressive, and he was very effective catching Brunson with short knees.Silva’s counter moves gave him the first round on North State Journal’s unofficial scorecard. Two of the three judges agreed, as did UFC president Dana White, who discussed his scorecard on the post-fight show.Brunson controlled most of the second round, taking Silva down and landing several solid combinations, while the former champion was able to muster very little offense. White and NSJ’s unofficial cards gave Brunson the edge, but only one of the three judges agreed.With the fight on the line in the third round, Brunson was at his most aggressive. He landed a second takedown and also had Silva against the cage. A big knee connected with Silva’s head, and Brunson threw long combinations.NSJ gave Brunson the third and the fight by a 29-28 score. White agreed. “I had Brunson winning,” he said on FS1’s post-fight. “I actually had the fight one (round) to one going into the third round, and I gave the third round to Brunson.”Unfortunately for Brunson, the three scorecards that mattered most all gave Silva the final round.
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