Derek Brunson (14-3) is coming off back-to-back TKO victories in 2015. On February 21st he faces Roan 'Jucao' Carneiro (20-9) in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 83 in Pittsburgh. Though he respects Carneiro's grappling, Brunson is confident he'll best the Brazilian come fight night.
"I think I have every advantage over him except for jiu-jitsu," Brunson told Bloody Elbow. "I'm faster, stronger, and I'm the better wrestler."
Last year, Brunson displayed devastating power in his hands by breaking Sam Alvey's jaw and stopping the durable Ed Herman. The Jackson-Winkeljohn product wasn't shy when discussing his power in relation to the rest of the UFC's middleweights. "Minus [the fighters on] steroids, for sure I have the best power in the division."
Brunson has consistently declared that he's a 'clean fighter' and that he takes pride in building strength without the use of performance-enhancing-drugs.
"I'd rather just go in the gym and put the hard work in," said Brunson. "Lift weights and get stronger like that."
Yoel Romero, who Brunson fought in 2014, was recently flagged by USADA for an out-of-competition drug violation. This week Romero, along with his manager Malki Kawa, alleged that the Olympian's failed test was the result of a tainted supplement. Brunson was one of many fighters who took to social media to comment on the affair.
"It's no benefit of the doubt," stated Brunson when asked if Romero's past offences, which include grabbing gloves and the infamous 'stool-gate' incident, affect how he and others might feel over the situation. Brunson is not surprised that Romero is denying the knowing use of a PED.
"I was thinking, that's the only thing for him to do at the moment, " said Brunson. "Because with the new laws that USADA have in place, it's two years guaranteed and he's an older guy so that's gonna be pretty much his career.
"So he's gonna try and say all of this was a tainted supplement, so he can try and get a reduced sentence, but that's complete bull, you know? I wanna see guys who get caught get the full time."
Brunson believes Romero is guilty of doping and he cited the Cuban's physique as part of the reason why, but that's not all. He believes he felt unnatural strength from Romero when they squared off in the cage. "I took him down, I mounted him easy, but every time he was able to just explode up."
On the day he was interviewed, Brunson moved from 12th to 13th in the UFC's middleweight rankings. When told he had been leapfrogged by Rafael Natal, Brunson responded with, "Oh" and a chuckle.
"Honestly I don't really care about the rankings," said Brunson. "But yeah, it's kinda - whatever, Natal is one of my friends and we share the same manager, but he lost to Ed Herman, and I knocked Ed Herman out in the first round."
Brunson, having signed a new four-fight contract with the UFC approximately three months ago, is hoping a victory over Jucao can advance him in the rankings and lead to match-ups with the division's top contenders.
Had Brunson not have signed a new contract, he would have been a free agent after the fight with Carneiro. Brunson admitted that in retrospect, he may have been too quick to commit to Zuffa. "[I'm] kinda wishing [free agency] was something I would have considered a little bit more, you know?" said Brunson, who cited having more leverage in negotiations as the main benefit to testing free agency.
Expecting at least five more fights in the UFC Brunson hopes they come in quicker succession than in previous years.
"I don't plan on waiting again this long", said Brunson - who last fought over six months ago. "I'm not gonna be ok with that."
"I'm definitely going to put the pressure on the UFC, and my manager to go out there and get me a fight, you know, opposed to just sitting around, getting dropped in the rankings I guess because of activity, because the other guy was more active..."
Brunson stated he wants three to four fights in 2016, having fought just twice in 2015 despite being injury-free. Brunson admitted that those two fights "barely" covered his costs for the year, which included travel, coaches, and corners.
"I'm not like hurting by any means, but I'm not really, you know, let me say, I'm not really cool with doing fighting just to break even."
You can follow Brunson on twitter @DerekBrunson