UFC Vegas 5: Shahbazyan Seeks Breakthrough Against Brunson

Edmen Shahbazyan
Edmen Shahbazyan Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

The ascent of Edmen Shahbazyan has been brilliant so far, but the highly experienced Derek Brunson is looking to derail the young prospect at UFC Vegas 5.

Look at the career of perennial contender Derek Brunson and you’ll struggle to find a tougher resume in the middleweight division in the last decade.  He’s fought the greats of today and yesteryear, with matches against Anderson Silva, Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Lyoto Machida, and Yoel Romero over the course of eight years in the promotion.  Through ups and downs, the hard-hitting Brunson has proven himself to be one of the toughest challenges at 185 pounds for any fighter in the division.

Recent years have seen Brunson struggle to regain momentum after he dropped back-to-back fights to future champion Adesanya and fellow contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.  However, 2019 saw a resurgence as he turned back Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch.  Roughly a month away from the middleweight title being on the line, a victory for Brunson on Saturday would provide a huge opportunity to secure another high profile fight at the end of 2020 as the top contenders will be looking to work their way back up the rankings.

Though blazing his own path in the UFC, the story of Edmen Shahbazyan’s career is that he is the second coming for Ronda Rousey and head coach Edmond Tarverdyan.  Rousey has admitted that she was on her way out of the fight game, at a time when her losses hinted that the game was passing her by at the same time.  Tarverdyan, often criticized as the architect of her losses in the cage, had appeared to have simply fallen off the MMA map when she left.  Though invisible in the background back then, Shahbazyan was there for all of it.  Under the tutelage of Tarverdyan since he was 11 years old, Shahbazyan has been a long-time part of the Glendale Fighting Club and was even part of Rousey’s first UFC open workout back when he was 15 years old.

A surging young prospect, Shahbazyan’s bond and commitment to Tarverdyan at the Glendale Fighting Club is well-documented.  But while Rousey’s rise was akin to a rocket, “The Golden Boy” took a more traditional approach.  After putting together a strong resume on the local circuit in Southern California, Shahbazyan shined on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018 where he earned a UFC contract following his first round victory.  Since then he’s continued to impress in turning in four consecutive victories including a stoppage of Brad Tavares last year, something that even current champion Israel Adesanya was unable to do.

A disciplined attack from Brunson will be necessary to shutting down the dynamic young upstart.  Brunson has shown one-shot stopping power in the past and should look to impose a high output on Shahbazyan with an emphasis on targeting the body.  Shahbazyan has made quick work of every opponent, save for one, in his MMA career through explosiveness and brilliant counter-striking.  The key to another victory will be to avoid exchanging in the pocket with Brunson and taking a more active approach should he find himself struggling to find openings to do damage.

A victory for both men would set up a huge leap in competition.  Brunson would be looking at another opponent around the middle of the rankings, with possible matchups with Kelvin Gastelum or Darren Till standing out.  Shahbazyan would be riding his fifth straight victory in row and the UFC will likely evaluate whether they want to keep a measured pace for the 22 year-old or set him up for a high profile fight that would get him into the title picture.