LAS VEGAS – Derek Brunson felt counted out entering UFC on ESPN+ 31, but he wasn’t offended by it.
Ahead of Saturday’s main event, Brunson’s opponent, Edmen Shahbazyan, had garnered a lot of attention from fans and media. When it came time to fight, however, Brunson (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) proved the oddsmakers wrong and defeated Shahbazyan (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) by third-round TKO.
At a post-fight news conference, Brunson admitted he saw what many members of the general public were saying about him – despite his attempts to stay off social media.
“It definitely feels better,” Brunson said when asked if there was any added excitement in victory given the circumstances. “I had to get off social media all week. I’d kind of glance at it and turn away. I wasn’t reading no Facebook or Instagram. Everybody was, ‘You’re going to get dogged. You’re going to get beat up real bad.’”
Brunson added that he thinks he’s often overlooked – not just during the lead-up to the Shahbazyan fight. Brunson explained he’s overcome numerous levels of adversity in past camps, yet still competed even when it didn’t make sense. From now on, Brunson is operating strictly with his best interests in mind.
“I’m not given enough respect in this division,” Brunson said. “I’m OK with earning it. There have been fights where I’ve had the flu. I went to the doctor to nurse myself back to health – and five days later to fight. … We had a hurricane in North Carolina, and I was home with the family, making sure everything was OK. I had to fight 10 days after that when I wasn’t training for two weeks.
“Nobody cares about those excuses. But whenever I have a fight, yes, I want to prepare properly and get a full camp in with the guys down there with Henri Hooft and Sanford MMA to get me ready for these big fights.”
While Brunson was proud of his performance, he defended any potential criticism Shahbazyan may receive for the loss. In Brunson’s opinion, Shahbazyan wasn’t rushed or mismanaged but partook in an earned opportunity.
“I don’t think MMA should be building,” Brunson said. “You look at the NFL (or) NBA – if you’re good, you play. MMA needs to stop building fighters up. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough to fight. You fight whoever is close in the rankings. You go out there and earn it. There should be no favoritism or, ‘Oh, look at him. He’s young.’ If you’re earning your spot, yeah, fight somebody tough. Keep working your way up.
“He went out there and knocked Tavares out. Tavares is no joke. Yeah, he earned this fight. Everybody had me getting smoked until I go out there and get a victory. Man, everybody’s got to earn their stripes. He earned the fight, and I went out there and earned the victory.”
UFC on ESPN+ 31 took place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card streamed on ESPN+.