With the Brazilian crowd raining down boos on him as he approached the Octagon on Saturday inside Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Derek Brunson had a look of steely determination.
Set to face former champion Lyoto Machida, the 33-year-old Wilmington native was focused on continuing his climb up the Ultimate Fighting Championship ladder.
Brunson, a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, didn’t disappoint.
Using a vicious barrage of southpaw strikes, Brunson made short work of Machida’s long-awaited comeback, silencing the partisan crowd for his seventh first-round stoppage win and ninth UFC win since 2012 — tied for the most in the middleweight division.
“I definitely got up for this fight,” Brunson said in his post-fight interview. “Lyoto is never going to lose his skills. He might lose his timing, speed, cardio, but he’ll never lose his skills. To come out and get a win over a guy like that, I feel incredible right now.”
Brunson (18-5) thrashed the former light heavyweight champion Machida, handing the Brazilian the fastest loss of his career. Patiently waiting for his moment, Brunson struck Machida with a devastating left-handed blow and put him to sleep with several follow-up strikes on the ground. The fight, which headlined UFC Fight Night 119, was waved off at the 2:30 mark.
“I wanted to take my time. I saw that opening,” he said. “But hey, I’m a bad man right now. … I’m ready for some big fights.”
Adding another victim to his highlight reel of first-round finishes, Brunson wasted no time calling out his next possible opponent.
“Luke Rockhold, what’s up baby? Where you at? Let’s run this,” he said after the fight.
Brunson believes that Rockhold could be the signature win he needs for his résumé after near-misses against Yoel Romero, the legendary Anderson Silva, and interim champion Robert Whittaker.
After a two-fight losing streak — including a controversial decision to Silva — Brunson rebounded in June by blitzing Dan Kelly with a 76-second knockout. His impressive win over Machida, a popular UFC figure, demands attention from the best fighters within the division.
“(Luke is) a top-level guy,” Brunson said. “He’s one or two in the division. I think it would be a great matchup. I think I could put hands on him, touch that chin one time, I can put him down also.”
And a victory over a fighter of Rockhold’s stature would get him one step closer to a chance at donning a championship belt around his waist.
“For sure, a win over Rockhold would definitely get me next to the title shot,” he said. “The media sleeps on me a lot, but what I’ve done in the UFC, what I’ve done over my career — I had a controversial decision over Anderson, let’s say I get that win, that takes away a loss. Romero, I was beating him two rounds to zero, I was dominating the whole fight. He was able to catch me with a punch with about a minute left. If I would have just danced around for a minute, I would have got that win. Whittaker, I touched him a lot, he touched me a lot, I rocked him, he rocked me, he was able to get the win.”
Known for his powerful left-handed punches and aggressive style, Brunson’s increased patience has paid off in his last few bouts. It’s a trait that makes the seventh-ranked fighter in the middleweight division even scarier for future opponents.
“I’ve definitely had a crazy career, but I’m starting to put it together and starting to take my time,” he said. “I know that I can really do some damage if I just slow down just a little bit.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.