After more than a decade of competing inside the Octagon, Derek Brunson is ready for a change of scenery.
He’ll get exactly that on November 24 when ‘The One’ makes his promotional debut at the 2023 PFL Championships. Stepping into the Smart Cage for the very first time, Brunson will meet two-time PFL world champion Ray Cooper III.
Ahead of his highly anticipated PFL premiere, the two-time Fight of the Night winner spoke with Mike Owens in a MiddleEasy exclusive to discuss what drew him to the PFL after spending the last 11 years competing under the UFC banner.
“I like the way the PFL moves. I like the million-dollar tournament,” Brunson said. “I like the format and how they have the point system when you watch the fights on ESPN and they have the live scoring in terms of who landed the most strikes. The odds going back and forth. I think that stuff is pretty exciting. I like the way they’re doing things and they’re all about trying to build their brand and I’m here for it.”
Enjoyed chatting with @DerekBrunson who talked:
– PFL signing✅
– Favourite UFC moments✅
– Jake Paul fight?✅
– Strickland-Chimaev prediction✅
— MikeOwensMedia (@MikeOwensMedia) October 26, 2023
With recent blockbuster signings including former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and social media sensation Jake Paul, the PFL is looking to solidify itself as the No. 2 mixed martial arts organization in the world.
“There’s no question. They’re definitely the second biggest. They just need to keep signing guys. They need to be the destination. Make it a destination for guys who are like, ‘Yeah, I want to go to the PFL.’ It’s an opportunity. A big league that’s on ESPN. Have great fighters. Have the million-dollar tournament.
“I’ve been in the UFC for a little bit. For guys just starting out, it’s going to take a little bit to make a million dollars. Guys can come over here and win and work hard and they can get rewarded for it.”
With the PFL set to wrap up its tournament format with six epic million-dollar title fights next month, Brunson is already looking ahead to the 2024 tournament where he is expected to compete in the light heavyweight division.
“The thing about a tournament is it starts fresh. The final has no bearing on the next year’s tournament,” Brunson said. “You’re gonna have eight or so guys competing, trying to get into the final four and compete for the million dollars.”
Derek Brunson Plans on Faring Better Than Other Ex-UFC Stars in the PFL Smart Cage
In recent years, the PFL has seen a handful of UFC ex-pats make the move from the Octagon to the Smart Cage with disappointing results. That includes the likes of Rory MacDonald, former lightweight champion Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis, and highly-touted prospect Aspen Ladd.
Asked how he plans to avoid the negative results experienced by his former co-workers, Derek Brunson believes many of his losses inside the Octagon were due to mistakes that he made, not because he was fighting competitors who were legitimately better than him.
“I’m rejuvenated. I’m me. I’m not out here losing on skills,” Brunson said. “I’m losing because of myself. Nobody can’t look at most of my fights and say, ‘Damn Derek, you lost because the guy was better than you.’ I beat myself a lot. It’s not like I’m not working hard. It’s just things and details that I was missing that I’m taking care of now when it comes to road work and stuff like that.
“So the energy and the pace is going to be at an all-time high and I feel like many can’t deal with me when that’s not a factor. When I’m not beating myself. When the cardio is on point. When the pace is on point and I’m able to keep that pace. We’re gonna be looking real good out there. I have nothing to do with how everybody else has faired. It’s all about me and my debut and we’re gonna go out here and look good.”
With a million dollars and a world title on the line, Brunson was asked which one would be more important to him at this point in his career.
“Both of them,” Brunson replied. “The million dollars could go a long way. I’m not really hurting for money. I’m not rich or anything, but I’m not really hurting for money. I made some good investments with my time in the UFC, but the million dollars would be great and the world championship would be great. It’d be like icing on the top.”
Two-time @PFLMMA champ 👑
— DAZN MMA (@daznmma) October 23, 2023
Upon his exit from the UFC, there was immediate speculation that Derek Brunson could book himself a boxing match with social media star Jake Paul. Currently, the ‘Problem Child’ is gearing up for a return to the squared circle on December 15 and is rumored to make his PFL debut in 2024.
“We’ll have to see after I go out here and handle my business with Ray Cooper,” Brunson said of a potential meeting with Paul inside the Smart Cage. “We’ll see what Jake Paul is feeling like. You never know.”
He added, “I love challenges. I love big fight superfights, so yeah. I’ll be all for it.”
Watch the full interview below: