Middleweight prospect Derek Brunson yearns to break into the top bracket of the UFC’s 185-pound division, but he’s yet to deliver a performance to warrant inclusion among the division’s contenders.

Tonight in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Brunson takes on former UFC light-heavyweight world champion Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida in a bout that sees the Brazilian return from a one-year suspension to try and revive his own flagging career.

Brunson looked a worthy prospect as he picked up early wins in his UFC career, but he came unstuck against some of the division’s best, as he was decisively stopped by Australian Robert Whittaker and outpointed (controversially) by former world champ Anderson Silva.

Brunson’s gung-ho approach put him in big trouble against Whittaker, and he over-compensated against Silva, where he looked decidedly gun-shy in a fight he probably deserved to win.

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We saw the old, aggressive Brunson return in a first-round knockout of Australian veteran Dan Kelly last time out, but against Machida he’ll have to offer a far more refined approach.

That’s because Machida is the king of the counter-strikers in the UFC’s middleweight division. "The Dragon" has built a career on using his opponents’ forward momentum against them, claiming multiple counter-punch knockouts in his UFC career.

A glance at Machida’s form suggests all is not well, given that he’s dropped to defeat in three of his last four matchups. But when you consider those bouts came against former world champions Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold, plus top contender Yoel Romero, there’s a small caveat over his form.

Machida’s inactivity also has to be considered here. He was suspended by USADA after a medicine he declared during a routine drug test was discovered to contain ingredients on the banned list. Now he’s back in action after a 16-month layoff and ready to make another charge toward the top of the division.

The easy pick here is Brunson. He’s the younger, more aggressive, more active fighter. But it’s hard to look at the two styles of the fighters and not believe Brunson’s style is tailor-made for Machida’s slick, hard-hitting, counter-striking style.

If Machida can avoid being caught early, I suspect he’ll find holes in Brunson’s wide-open defense and stop him with strikes inside the opening two rounds.

He’s the underdog at +130 for the win and +200 for the TKO/KO win. And, with +700 and +850 available for wins in the first and second round respectively, there’s plenty of value to be had backing the Brazilian.

PICK: MACHIDA VIA KO/TKO (INSIDE OPENING TWO ROUNDS)

[Main image credit: © Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports]


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