Derek Brunson vs Edmen Shahbazyan: Could A New Contender Emerge?
By Jack Rainbow
Saturdays three-round main event pits US veteran Derek Brunson against the undefeated 22-year-old Edmen Shahbazyan.
Both fighters come into this main event on the back of impressive victories, with Brunson beating fellow up and comer Ian Heneish last August, while Shahbazyan emphatically knocked out Brad Tavares in New York at UFC 244.
Much of the focus in fight week has been on Shahbazyan for good reason. 10 of his 11 victories have come via stoppage, and at just 22, many have tipped him as a future champion. His last knockout of Brad Tavares caused shockwaves with a bonus worthy performance. With the middleweight division being peppered with elite strikers, Shahbazyan has an opportunity to propel himself into the upper echelons of the division with a statement victory.
Much of the criticism directed at Brunson in the past is that he is inconsistent and fails to deliver in the fights which could place him within the divisions elite. Losses to Jacare Souza and current champion Isreal Adesanya in 2018 show how in the past when he has had the chance to move to the next level he has fallen short.
However, his two back to back wins in 2019 mean he will get a potentially final chance to earn a shot at someone within the top 5. At 36 years old, the former NCAA wrestler will need to win this fight to shake off the image of being a gatekeeper, and he certainly poses Shahbazyan with a different form of challenge.
Stylistically this fight is intriguing. Brunson’s wrestling credentials could enable him to push Shahbazyan into deeper waters than the 22-year-old had ever been pushed. None of his previous four UFC opponents have had the skills Brunson possesses on the ground, and if the fight goes there it will teach us much about the Armenians ground game, especially on his back.
Shahbazyan is a legitimate prospect and naturally carries much hype. Being managed by former UFC superstar Ronda Rousey only adds to this, and this fight offers a real opportunity for him to showcase why he is ready to crack the middleweight top 5. However, Brunson will believe he can capitalize on the 22-year-olds inexperience and has spoken frequently about how he is unfazed by the hype train.
The clash in styles combined by the vast gap in experience means this fight is fascinating to finding out the level both men are currently at.
For Brunson, this fight is a must-win, to show he is capable of overcoming the higher level middleweights. At a +260 with the bookies, however, he will need to be perfect and drag the Armenian to deep waters, as Shahbazyan will fancy his chances of making yet another statement to prove he is ready for the top middleweights.