UFC middleweight Derek Brunson says he has signed his bout agreement to headline a Jan. 27 event in Charlotte, opposite ranked opponent Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
After traveling outside the U.S. for three of his last four fights, Brunson (18-4) has been bugging UFC president Dana White to book him closer to home.
Apparently White came through, as Charlotte is less than a 4-hour drive from Brunson’s hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina.
“I signed my contract and I’m pretty sure Jacare signed his contract,” Brunson told ESPN. “I expect the UFC to announce it soon.
“I think Jacare was playing games trying to get it to Brazil. It’s funny, because he wasn’t really on my radar. I was aiming for somebody who would get me a title shot. But after thinking about it, a first-round finish over Jacare, who’s been considered as one of the best fighters on the planet, I think that gets me a shot.”
White confirmed the matchup to reporters on Tuesday but did not clarify a date. Souza (24-5) recently lobbied for it to take place on Feb. 3 in Belem, Brazil.
A UFC fight in North Carolina would be a long time coming for Brunson, who hasn’t fought in his home state since 2010.
The 185-pound fight is also a rematch of a bout that took place under the Strikeforce banner in 2012. Souza won the bout via knockout in just 41 seconds — a result Brunson says haunted him for years.
“I was a young talented prospect back then,” Brunson said. “Strikeforce let me take a fight on short notice outside the promotion and I got robbed on a split decision against Kendall Grove. I easily won that fight. So, I went from 9-0 to getting robbed and suffering my first loss.
“I get back to Strikeforce and they put me right with Jacare. I was still pissed about the loss and said, ‘I’m about to go torch this former champion.’ I went out super aggressive and he caught me. The punch he threw, he ducked his head and closed his eyes. I came running in and he caught me on the chin.
“I had to deal with that for years. I was pissed off about it for a long time.”
A redemptive win over Souza would mark Brunson’s 10th win in the UFC, and he’s optimistic that would be enough for a title shot.
The middleweight division has been in a strange state since summer 2016, when Michael Bisping upset Luke Rockhold in a championship fight. In the 18 months since, top-ranked middleweights have stood by while names like Dan Henderson and Georges St-Pierre jumped the line and fought for the title.
Although the division’s immediate future is still unclear with St-Pierre now holding the belt, Brunson believes it’s close to returning to normal.
“I’ve got some pretty good sources on the inside,” Brunson laughed. “I’m hearing [St-Pierre] is not gonna defend the belt. We’ll see. It’s a circus. At first, we hear it’s in his contract he has to, now I’m hearing he doesn’t want to do it.
“Respect to Bisping for showing up on short notice and becoming a champion, but he never should have been in the title picture last year. He fought a guy in Rockhold who beat him before and came in cocky. Then [St-Pierre] came in off the bench, hadn’t fought in four years.
“If he vacates the belt, I wouldn’t mind seeing that. Everybody at middleweight has been working hard to be a champion. There are a lot of tough fights at the top and I won’t be upset if Georges vacates.”