UFC Fight Night 35 Preview: Yoel Romero vs. Derek Brunson

A middleweight bout between two fighters climbing the ladder with perfect 2-0 records in the UFC is featured on the night’s main card as former Olympian Yoel Romero takes on Derek Brunson in an interesting bout. Both men competed just over two months ago at UFC Fight For The Troops 3. Romero scored a third-round knockout win over Ronny Markes while Brunson submitted Brian Houston in just 48 seconds. Romero has six wins in seven professional fights while Brunson is 2-2 over his last four fights after starting his professional career with nine straight victories.

Fight Breakdown- Romero has looked very impressive since debuting in mixed martial arts after being a silver medalist in the 2000 Summer Olympics in freestyle wrestling. He has won six of his seven professional fights, and all six of the wins have come by knockout. His brief UFC stint has been ultra-impressive as he knocked out Clifford Starks with a flying knee in his UFC debut at UFC On FOX 7 in April. He followed that by ending Ronny Markes’ seven-fight win streak as he knocked Markes out in November at UFC Fight For The Troops 3, which also ended Markes’ perfect mark in the UFC. Both of those wins have come after Romero made the move down to 185 pounds. He started his career as a light heavyweight and racked up four wins overseas to get his career going. He was quickly signed to the Strikeforce promotion, and didn’t get an easy fight for his debut there as he took on former champion Rafael Cavalcante. Cavalcante handed Romero his only loss and it showed what Romero needed to work on for the future, and that perhaps a change in weight classes was needed. Romero took over 19 months off to transition to the middleweight division, and he is quickly racking up the wins at 36 years of age.

Brunson has a stated goal of competing inside the Octagon for at least 20 fights, and he will step inside the Octagon for the third time on Wednesday night. If he keeps having performances like the one he had in his last fight, 20 fights may come quicker than he expected. Brunson has won both of his UFC fights since moving over from the Strikeforce promotion. He debuted against Chris Leben at UFC 155 in December 2012. He went in as a big underdog but used his wrestling to take home the decision win. It may have not been the most impressive win, but he did take the fight on just 11 days’ notice and beat a tough veteran to boot. He had two fights cancelled in 2013 but was able to compete in November at UFC Fight For The Troops 3 against Brian Houston, and he scored a quick submission win as he defeated Houston in just 48 seconds. Those two wins ended a two-fight losing skid that Brunson was in. He dropped a controversial decision to Kendall Grove in a regional bout in June 2012, and then was knocked out emphatically by Ronaldo Souza in Strikeforce in August 2012. Brunson had won nine straight fights to start his career before the two losses. Brunson has scored eight of his eleven wins by knockout or submission.

Romero and Brunson were originally scheduled to meet at UFC 164 in August before an injury forced Brunson out of the fight. Romero never got a chance to compete on that fight card, and after both men scored stoppage wins in November, now seems to be the right time to put the two back together in a match-up and see which one will take the next step forward in a tough middleweight division. Both men are solid wrestlers but Romero has the excellent background being an Olympic medalist. Brunson was a three-time Division II All-American wrestler, but he may not be able to beat Romero in a pure wrestling match. Romero has seemed to abandon all of his wrestling skill, though, and become a striker, and it has had successful returns as all of his wins have come by knockout. He has explosive power in his hands and will mix it up with flying knee attacks if he finds an opening. Brunson has some power in his hands as well, and he will have a solid reach advantage over Romero. Brunson should look to use his length to keep Romero at a distance, and mixing in leg kicks would be advised as it would start to slow Romero down if they are effective.

Brunson should look to implement his submission game and throw Romero off of his striking attack if he wants a clear path to victory. If the fight hits the mat, Brunson needs to work to keep Romero on the ground, and his submission game is solid from the guard. Romero still hits hard and we haven’t seen much of his ground-and-pound game, but anyone with the kind of power that Romero has is dangerous anywhere. Romero will need to avoid giving up his back as Brunson has good back control and a good rear-naked choke. Romero will likely avoid going to the ground and will probably abandon a wrestling attack, so it will be up to Brunson to get the fight to the mat. That is where Brunson is going to lose this fight as when he tries for the takedowns, it is going to leave him open for a power combination from Romero. Brunson has a questionable chin at times, and Romero can put his lights out if this goes to a slugfest. Brunson is a solid underdog, and some bettors may put some money on him, and it could pay off. However, this one goes to the favorite, and it will be a slugfest.

Why It Matters- This is the big chance for both men to firmly establish themselves as contenders in the UFC’s middleweight division. The division is wide open for title contenders and the winner will move to 3-0 in the division and set themselves up for a big fight in their next appearance, perhaps against the winner of the Lorenz Larkin vs. Brad Tavares fight. Romero is getting up there in age, but as he gets more experience, he is looking better each time he fights. He needs to stay active as the age could hit him suddenly, so winning, and winning quickly, likely will set him up for several more fights this year. The same goes for Brunson, who has shown he is willing to fight a lot. Neither man is in danger of being cut with a loss, and the winner keeps their climb up the division. This is a big test for both men to see where they stand right now.

Prediction- Romero

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