Brunson has yet to lose, and that's the way he likes it.
Tonight, the middleweight steps into the cage for the ninth time in
his young career, taking on seasoned
American Kickboxing Academy export Nate James on
the main card of Strikeforce
Challengers 20 from the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Following a first-round finish of Lumumba
Sayers on July 30, Brunson now finds James standing in the way
of upholding that perfect career mark. Though the 22-fight veteran
holds an obvious edge in experience, Brunson is not yet ready to
declare James his toughest opponent to date.
“The guy has a lot of experience, but toughest fight? I fought
pretty tough guys coming up,” Brunson told Sherdog.com on Thursday
night. “My first two or three fights weren't that tough, but after
that, the guys were pretty solid and had a lot of fights. I don't
know [if James will be the toughest]. We'll see what happens.”
A three-time Division II All-American wrestler at The University of
Carolina at Pembroke, Brunson began his mixed martial arts career
as a way to quench his thirst to compete after graduation.
“After working for three years after college, I had the urge to
compete again,” Brunson said. “That was my main reason for training
MMA. Initially, I was going to do wrestling again. I started
working out at a gym that had a couple of amateur fighters, and
they told me I should do MMA.”
Brunson currently holds an 8-0 professional record and has earned
seven finishes along the way. Blowing through his first four
opponents in less than four minutes combined, the 27-year-old was
introduced to his eventual manager, Ali Aziz, following a 14-second
victory one year ago in Providence, Rhode Island.
Two fights later, Brunson called Aziz and the pair formed their
business relationship. Not long after, the fighter began training
MMA, one of the sport's most revered camps. Currently, Brunson
conducts the majority of his training in Albuquerque, N.M., though
he has made two short trips to New York to train with Team Renzo
Gracie as well.
“It's been real good working with those guys [at Jackson's MMA],”
Brunson said. “Greg gives me a lot of personal time. I learn a lot,
and I can add a lot of tools to my game. Mike Winkeljohn, of
course, he's the striking coach, so I do a lot of pad work [with
Prior to this summer, Brunson looked as though he might never see a
second round as he continued to rip through his competition. That
changed upon making his Strikeforce
debut on June 24.
Taking on a game Jeremy
Hamilton, Brunson came out like a house afire and appeared to
be in for another first-round finish. However, Hamilton weathered
the early storm, and Brunson found himself running out of gas.
Though he left Challengers
16 with a unanimous decision, the middleweight says he learned
much about pacing himself from the bout.
“I definitely feel more comfortable knowing that I’ve been through
a three-rounder. I was going pretty much crazy the whole time,
especially on my feet,” said Brunson. “He was a pretty tough guy. I
knocked him down twice with a left in the first, and then I knocked
him down with a head kick in the second round.
“I learned the pace of MMA, not to go crazy the whole time and to
pick my spots better. That fight, anytime I knocked him down, I was
going in for the kill and pretty much gassing myself out. He was
moving on his back, and I was missing and not hitting. So, [I
learned about] playing the game a little bit more.”
Now entering his third Strikeforce appearance, it would not be
unreasonable for one with Brunson's pedigree to look toward the
future and consider bigger fights that could lie ahead. Brunson,
however, prefers to focus on the present, using his preparation as
a tool to build confidence.
“I don't feel pressure,” said Brunson. “I expect to stay
undefeated. I just take it one fight at a time. By the time fight
time comes, I’m pretty confident, because I know I’ve prepared
well. So, I don't really feel the pressure.
“I try to keep it all in perspective and not focus on the future.
[I try to] get the most out of the fight that I’m fighting at the
time instead of thinking, 'Hey, three more fights, and I can do
this or fight this person.' I just try to take it one fight at a
time and focus on who I’m fighting.”