Derek Brunson is just over 24 hours away from his fight with Darren Till, where his career will reach a crossroads in Las Vegas.
In one direction, the win sends the American to the front of the line for a shot at the middleweight championship. However, due to a loss, Brunson, at the age of 37, is staring into the abyss.
But, speak only to Sports postBrunson looks back at another crossroads in his life, where he turned his back on a burgeoning cheerleading career to take up wrestling — a decision that set him on the path to his UFC Fight Night 191 headliner this weekend against the Liverpudlian.
Derek Brunson, 37, is hours away from a crossroads in his legendary UFC journey
“I picked the wrong guy,” the UFC veteran chuckled. “Cheerleading used to hang out with a bunch of hot girls, but now I’ve got a bunch of sweaty dudes, so maybe I picked the wrong one!
“It was a lot of fun, but still hard work because we did a lot of gymnastics and throwing girls in the air and holding them up, stuff like that.
“That was part of my life, but now I’m standing here sweating with guys 24-7 in the rehearsal room.”
Victory or defeat for Brunson (L) v Darren Till (R) could have huge consequences on his journey
This 18-fight UFC veteran takes part in Saturday night’s somewhat overlooked bout. Brunson is well remembered on these shores for entering into — and ending up on the wrong side of — a bitter feud with Israel Adesanya.
A two-fight slip has been followed by a four-fight winning run, but bookmakers have installed Till – who has one win out of four fights – as the favorite to win in Vegas.
Brunson has warned doubters to write him off at his own risk as he finally looks to turn a strong run into a title shot after falling short twice during his storied career.
But his life might have been different if he had chosen cheerleading instead of wrestling as a youngster
Now Brunson is one win away from lining up for a rematch with Izzy Adesanya
“My resume and what I’ve done has put myself in the title mix,” he says. ‘I know Izzy’ [Adesanya] has mentioned Till’s name as a man he’d like to fight but make no mistake I’m four in a row, a win over Till would be five in a row and that should say a lot in terms of getting that next title shot after Izzy and [Robert] Whittaker mixes it up.
“Every fight is an opportunity to keep up the momentum and work towards something big.
“Eventually I don’t have my title chance yet, so I’m working towards that and that’s my goal. To keep that alive, I have to get out there and look good to Till.”
Brunson describes himself as an ‘IQ fighter’ who has a lot of weapons in his arsenal
Describing himself as an “IQ fighter” equipped to take out opponents on the ground and on the feet, Brunson is well aware of the threat striker Till presents in Sin City.
‘[He poses] the same threat that everyone poses,” Brunson adds. “Everyone is trying to get a knockout, everyone is trying to impress, everyone is trying to execute on their game plan.
‘At this level, everyone has the same goal in mind. They really want to look good to get that title because as top five, top 10 you’re there, you’re a win or two away.
“Where I am in my career, I think this is the best opportunity ahead of me. Every fight is very important to eventually get to where I want to be and what I came here for, so every fight is important to me right now.”
The stakes are high for the 37-year-old ahead of his ‘chess match’ with the Liverpudlian
STORY OF THE TAPE: DEREK BRUNSON VS. DARREN TOTAL
Weight: 185 pounds
Height: 6ft 1in
Range: 77 inches
Weight: 185 pounds
Height: 6ft 0ins
Range: 75 inches
Making his first Octagon appearance in over a year this Saturday night, Till has vowed to put on a sensational show in Vegas, promising a first-round knockout. Brunson, unfazed by Till’s bold claim, is excited at the prospect of a ‘chess match’ with the Englishman.
“I predict to myself that I will get the job done, finish it impressively,” he says. “Whether it’s early, middle or late, I feel like we get the job done and make it to the finish.
“I always think I can get the job done in the first lap, so can he, so we’ll see. It becomes a chess match to see who can find the openings. I like his way of thinking.’
Ultimately, a rematch with nemesis Adesanya is the goal. But for now, Brunson hopes to lead Till in a merry dance in Las Vegas this weekend, this time without the pompoms.