ANAHEIM, CA (CBS Sports) — Derek Brunson isn’t ready to play gatekeeper for anyone. The UFC veteran of 16 fights survived a scary opening moment of the fight to edge out a decision over Ian Heinisch in the first bout of the pay-per-view main card at UFC 241 from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
The fight was a battle of top 10 middleweights with Brunson entering the Octagon ranked No. 8 to Heinisch’s No. 10.
It took Heinisch (13-2) less than 10 seconds to land a smacking kick to the side of Brunson’s head. More impressive than the kick may have been the balance Heinisch displayed in avoiding Brunson’s follow-up takedown attempt. Through the remainder of the opening frame, Brunson (20-7) was troubled by Heinisch’s feints and shifts in timing. If there was one thing working in Brunson’s favor, however, it was an increased discipline as he fought at a more measured pace than in the majority of fights in his career.
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In the second round, Brunson’s patience began paying off as he cracked Heinisch repeatedly with powerful punches to stifle the attacks of the younger fighter. In a turn from many of Brunson’s fights, by the end of the second round, he was the fresher, more dynamic fighter as Heinisch appeared to fade.
With the fight seemingly hanging in the balance for the final round, Brunson was able to score multiple takedowns and land the cleaner shots for the first half of the round. Heinisch did have his moments in the final two minutes, but it was too little, too late as the final horn sounded and all three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Brunson.
With the win, Brunson seemed to be looking to put his reputation as a fighter with bad cardio behind him.
“I had a good training camp out of Hard Knocks 365 with Henry Hooft, the champ [Kamaru] Usman and a lot of other guys,” Brunson said. “Shout out to Dominick Cruz for checking me at one of the postfight interviews by asking who was my coach so I took his advice and hired a coach. Everybody want to come out here and test my cardio but I’m one of the hardest-working guys in the division.”