This past Friday at the 2023 PFL World Championship event, the main card kicked off with a new signing making his promotion debut. That signing was none other than former top UFC middleweight contender Derek Brunson (24-9). Brunson was making his debut against former PFL champion Ray Cooper III (25-9-1).
Cooper III was the former welterweight champion, but he’s been begging to move up to middleweight after struggling to make the 170 limit for sometime. He took the season off this year because the promotion didn’t have a middleweight division. When a showcase fight came up against a debuting Brunson, Cooper jumped at the opportunity. However, he even missed weight for this fight.
Cooper didn’t look great physically, but that can’t be said for Brunson. Brunson looked as lean as I’ve seen him in some time and he looked incredibly focused to put on a good performance. In the first round, Brunson found himself going for a takedown and had Cooper on one leg. While Cooper was balancing on one leg, he dropped Brunson with a hook.
Brunson recovered and took the former PFL champion down. He worked his way to mount and nearly finished the fight. To close out his UFC run, we’d seen Brunson look great in first rounds, however, his cardio would fall off a cliff after that. On Friday, he was able to keep his pace and went on to dominate the former PFL champion over the next two rounds to get the decision win.
Brunson’s PFL Future
After the bout, Brunson expressed interest in fighting Jake Paul as well as current Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen (14-0). Of course, Eblen is now a PFL fighter technically after Bellator was acquired last week by the larger promotion. Bellator will still run independent this year with it’s own championship fights.
When Brunson initially signed, it was said that he would compete in the 2024 light heavyweight season. However, I think there’s another opening here. PFL doesn’t have a middleweight champion thus Johnny Eblen has no one to fight for the champions versus champions card. Maybe they should look at adding a Bellator championship fight to that card.
If I was looking out for Derek Brunson, I would advise him to try and get a Bellator title fight with Eblen. Brunson already talked about the massive payday he’s getting from the PFL and this would allow him another massive opportunity to get paid while challenging for a world title.