5-2 may not sound like an impressive run, but Derek Brunson (17-5) has knocked out his opponent in every single one of those five wins. As expected, his money punch is his power/rear hand. Uncommonly, Brunson is a southpaw. And terrifyingly, Brunson has the touch of death in his left hand.
The “touch of death” refers to fighters who have such incredible power in a certain limb they can inflict fight-changing damage with seemingly insignificant connections. Brunson can catch an opponent on the very end of a left cross and turn their knees into jelly. Grazing shots from him bring veteran fighters to their knees and the ferocity with which he attacks almost guarantees a hit.
With all this, it’s easy to forget that Brunson was a heck of a Division II wrestler. Lorenz Larkin was undersized at middleweight but still had four knockouts by punches when he met Brunson. Rather than risk being cracked during an exchange, Brunson repeatedly timed Larkin for takedowns taking a unanimous decision win.
The problem is that Brunson will chase knockouts like a white rabbit. Once he hurts an opponent, he throws a ridiculous number of power shots. Smart fighters understand that all knockdowns are not equal; a fighter who suffers a flash knockdown is far less vulnerable than someone who can’t even react fast enough to break their fall.
The one man who survived a clean salvo, Robert Whittaker, quickly knocked out the gassed Brunson.
After serving out his 18-month suspension, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (22-7) returns to the cage. Not having fought since 2015 and not having won since 2014, there’s a wave of MMA fans that do not understand why he’s a big deal.
Well, Machida shared the title of “best counter fighter” with Anderson Silva for a few years. He was a master of spacing, staying just outside his opponent’s range and frustrating them with feints and kicks. When the man in front of him charged forward, he’d intercept them with a punch carrying his body weight and sleep them. If he realizes he has the speed advantage, he’ll hit and run using the straight punches of his karate background. He’ll mix in takedowns if he thinks an opponent isn’t paying attention and people underestimate his top game.
This is a guy who knocked out Rashad Evans and Ryan Bader in two rounds apiece. A guy who knocked out Mark Munoz with a head kick through his guard. A guy who gave the world-class Gegard Mousasi fits. An undersized underdog who surprised pundits by giving Chris Weidman all he could handle for five rounds, using slick footwork and body kicks to keep the fight competitive.
Yes, Machida is 1-3 in his last four fights. But those losses were to Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, and Yoel Romero. In order that is the second best middleweight champion in UFC history, the best middleweight in the world and a wrestling freak of nature.
The bigger question is whether two back-to-back losses have caused irreparable damage to the aging legend.
On paper, Machida eats Brunson for breakfast.
But at 39 years old and a two-year layoff, one has to ask whether Machida is the same fighter. This is beside the fact that Rockhold badly concussed him and Romero violently knocked him out. If Brunson catches him, Machida doesn’t have the durability to endure.
But Machida has fought far superior competition and never once fallen to a “puncher’s chance”. He’s slick enough to wear Brunson down and chop him in the later rounds.
Machida via TKO
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