Wilmington’s Derek Brunson scored a resounding knockout victory over MMA legend Lyoto Machida in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday night.
Brunson, the No. 7-ranked middleweight in the world, continued his quest for a title shot by earning Performance of the Night honors for his quick win over the former UFC champion.
“Hey, I’m a bad man right now,” Brunson said after the fight. “Let’s do it. I’m ready for some big fights.”
Big fights and playing the bad guy are becoming commonplace for the North Carolinian. Three of his last four bouts have been in the home country of his opponent — a tour that included trips to Australia, New Zealand and, last night, Sao Paolo, Brazil. The matchup with Machida was also the second main event of his UFC career.
The two fighters had a feeling-out period at the start that lasted almost a minute and a half. Brunson was the aggressor, backing Machida up with attempts at leg kicks and jabs, but nothing connected.
While Brunson was more active in the beginning, it was a departure from his usual reckless style. Instead of charging forward, hunting a knockout, he was willing to circle and wait for his moment, partly out of respect for Machida, who has black belts in karate and Jiu-Jitsu.
“Lyoto is never going to lose his skills,” Brunson said. “I wanted to take my time until I saw that opening.”
After Machida moved forward with a punch attempt, Brunson saw his moment. He countered with a left hook to the head that essentially ended the fight. Machida was staggered, and Brunson put him down with another left. After three straight lefts on the ground, the referee stepped in to end the fight at 2:30 of the first round.
“Check my hand wraps,” Brunson boasted afterward. “Make sure I haven’t got anything in there.”
It was the 14th first-round finish in Brunson’s career and his seventh knockout since 2012, which ties for the most in the UFC Middleweight division. His nine wins since 2012 are also best in the division.
Brunson has now won seven of his last nine fights with six first-round knockouts.
While Brunson likely still has a bit of a wait before getting a title shot — injured champion Michael Bisping and interim champion Robert Whittaker need to fight to reunite the division’s title — he will get a chance to move up in line by facing another contender. Knowing this, Brunson called out the No. 2-ranked middleweight: Luke Rockhold, who held the title for the first half of 2016 and has a 16-3 record.
“Luke Rockhold,” he said on the TV broadcast. “Where you at, man? Let’s run this.”