Time and time again during 2012, exciting fights booked by the UFC and Strikeforce have been cancelled due to injury. It was starting to look like UFC 155, the final Zuffa card of the year, would be no different, as Gray Maynard and Forrest Griffin had already dropped out of their bouts due to injury. Today, we got more bad injury news, when it was announced that Karlos Vemola was forced to drop out of his fight on the show against Chris Leben. I for one was nervous that Leben would be pulled from the card altogether.
That was not the case, however. Finally, the curse may be abating because, when Vemola’s injury gave the UFC lemons, Joe Silva and company were finally able to squeeze those things into a refreshing beverage. By this I am referring to the fact that former Strikeforce middleweight prospect Derek Brunson is reportedly making the jump to the UFC to fill in against Leben on short notice.
Brunson, if you recall, was 9-0 earlier this year and looking like one of the top prospects in all of the middleweight division. Then Zuffa let him fight Kendall Grove outside of the Zuffa banner in something called ShoFight back in June. In what was widely considered a garbage decision (because it was), Grove took a split decision, taking some of the luster off Brunson. He would then return to Strikeforce just two months later, and drop a knockout loss to former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jacare Souza. As a result, his status as a huge prospect has at least taken a small hit (though Brunson’s talent remains undeniable).
Taking the fight against Leben is the perfect opportunity for Brunson to bounce back, and he really has little to lose in doing so. A fight against Leben is a guaranteed barn burner and, worst case scenario, Brunson loses and can point to having less than two weeks to train. Additionally, he matches up well in this fight, as a three-time NCAA Division II All-American with a better-than-average all around game. In his nine wins, three have come via submission, while four have come by TKO or knockout.
At the same time, there is no doubt that Leben will come to make things exciting, as he always does. Therefore, win or lose, just being in there with Leben on one of the biggest MMA events of the year is guaranteed to do wonders for Brunson exposure-wise. The fight is basically the equivalent of a free commercial during the Super Bowl. Barring a huge flop (I’m talking fall down on the way to the octagon level of unlikely), it’s going to be great for Brunson’s career. If he is able to pull off the win, and he is more than capable of doing so, he will regain his status as one of the most elite prospects in the middleweight division, and then some.
It’s a far cry for Brunson from being snubbed from an appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, and is hopefully the first of many instances where the merger of Strikeforce and the UFC will mean increased opportunities for deserving fighters. Awesome fight!