The only way to reach the top of the UFC’s middleweight division is through Derek Brunson. On Saturday he slammed the door for a hot prospect.
Brunson stopped Edmen Shahbazyan via TKO at: 26 of the third round in the main event of the UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The previously unbeaten Shahbazyan had all the hype coming up – he is the former training partner of UFC legend Ronda Rousey. But Brunson almost finished it at the end of the second and did it at the beginning of the third.
The card took place without spectators at UFC Apex, a property owned by the promotion right in front of its corporate campus. It was the first event in the United States after a one-month run in July on Abu Dhabi̵
Brunson stated in his post-fight interview that he was disappointed that he was a loser. He said he’s been 3-0 since he trained with coach Henri Hooft at the Sanford MMA – and recalled the advice Hooft gave him when he first arrived at the South Florida gym.
“So many people were betting against me and had negative things to say. [But] I’ve had so much support – much more than the negative, “said Brunson.” … since I went over there, [Hooft’s] believed in me. He always said, “You’re not a keeper. Show these guys you have it. Want a title? Come on.” I am ecstatic right now. “
Brunson was an oncoming +290 loser. This has been the biggest disturbance in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping (+400) knocked out Luke Rockhold to win the UFC middleweight title at UFC 199 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The first round was very tight. Shahbazyan landed some hard right hands and a large knee. Brunson was able to bring down Shahbazyan and connect with his left hand. In the second, Brunson took over, exhausting Shahbazyan with his high pace and wrestling.
Brunson was able to take down the tired Shahbazyan at the end of the second, slip into a dominant position and land on huge ground. Brunson crushed Shahbazyan with a large elbow that made him bleed. Referee Herb Dean was very close to intervening to end it when the bell rang to end the round.
“I broke it with a big elbow [at the end of the second round] and I heard coach Hooft say, “Two more elbows,” said Brunson. “I broke it with another and thought that the referee would stop him right there. He didn’t. I regained calm and listened to my corner.”
When the third started, Brunson began his assault again. He came forward with a big left hand, took Shahbazyan and landed more land and pound. This time, Dean had a quick hook and canceled it, giving Brunson a TKO.
Brunson said his immediate thoughts would return home to see his family after being separated for the past four weeks while training for Shahbazyan. He said he will start thinking about his next opponent with his coaches within a week.
Brunson (21-7) is considered one of the most difficult outs in the middleweight division. The North Carolina native is now in a winning streak in three fights. Brunson, 36, has lost only current or previous champions since 2016: Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Brunson is now tied with three others for third place in UFC middleweight history (8).
UFC president Dana White was impressed with Brunson’s performance.
“[Brunson] it looked fantastic tonight. He ran into an emerging young savage who wanted to be the youngest champion ever, “said White.” And he did what he was supposed to do tonight. And it looked good. “
22-year-old Shahbazyan (11-1) had won all four of his upcoming UFC fights, including the previous three in the first round. The California native had been considered one of the best blue-chippers on the UFC roster. Shahbazyan trains from the Glendale Fighting Club under the guidance of Edmond Tarverdyan, longtime mentor to Rousey. Shahbazyan, a protégé of both, is managed by Tarverdyan and Rousey.
White said he was not disappointed with Shahbazyan’s performance, although he suffered his first UFC setback.
“Everyone knew whatever the odds said [that] he’s going against an experienced guy, “said White.” Brunson fought everyone, everyone. Shahbazyan didn’t fight everyone. This is where you find out where a boy is. You pitted him against Derek Brunson. “