PEMBROKE — It’s a routine that mixed martial artist Derek Brunson follows everyday that he picked up as a freshman at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
From the first wrestling meeting he attended on the first day of his freshman year in 2002, Brunson learned the importance of preparation and now a day planner plans out every day and every busy schedule for the eighth-ranked middleweight fighter in the world.
“My coach my freshman year was P.J. Smith. The very first day we got here on campus and we had our wrestling meeting, he had a day planner,” Brunson said. “To this day I still keep my day planner ‘cause it helps me stay organized and get everything I need to get done and it’s just one of the things that helped me in life.”
Last weekend, Brunson was honored as one of the new members of the UNCP athletics hall of fame after a standout career as a wrestler for the Braves. Brunson won three NCAA region titles and made four trips to the NCAA Division II National Championships, where he was a named a three-time all-American. He wrestled for the Braves from 2002-07 and racked up 121 career victories, including 39 wins during his freshman campaign.
“After my athletic career is wrapped up, I’ll look back on this time and I’ll be really grateful for being inducted into the hall of fame,” Brunson said. “It’s definitely a great honor.”
The weekend of homecoming where the hall of fame class was honored at the alumni awards banquet on Friday night and at halftime of the UNCP football game on Saturday came at a perfect point before the training process of Brunson’s next fight.
“I’m starting to really ramp up the training and get ready for that,” he said. “This came at a really good time. I came here and enjoyed some chocolate strawberries and now I can focus on my diet and really prepare for this fight.”
Five weeks of prep are ahead for Brunson as he takes on No. 7 Robert Whittaker in UFC Fight Night 101 taking place in Melbroune, Austrailia on Nov. 27. He brings a 16-3 record with a string of four first-round knockouts into the bout.
“I’m in a really good spot. I’ve got a lot of notoriety across the world and this one is in Austrailia so it’s time to give the other part of the world a look at me,” Brunson said. “It’s another fight, a big fight, a good opponent that I’m ranked lower in the world and there’s a lot of eyes and a lot of implications on this fight. It’s one step closer to the title shot.”
Current UNCP wrestling coach Othello “O.T.” Johnson coached Brunson during his senior season and has kept close track of him as he has became one of the top up-and-comers in the UFC.
“I’m not really surprised because we’ve always known when we coached him, even though it was for one year, we saw his potential and saw what he was capable of,” Johnson said. “He’s proven that fight in and fight out with these first-round knockouts.”
Brunson was also named the 2014 UNCP young almunus award.
With a program that has produced a large share of all-Americans and three national champions in the last four years, Brunson is another success story Johnson shares with his athletes.
“To see Derek get inducted and see what he’s doing with his life because of the sport of wrestling is really promising for the current athletes,” he said. “I always tell and show those current athletes that it doesn’t matter where you start or how you finish your career in college, you can do a lot of great things because of this sport and when the right time comes you can get recognized for it. Derek’s induction is a testament to that.”
Contact Jonathan Bym on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.