There’s little question that Derek Brunson has been positioned as a litmus test for rising prospect Edmen Shahbazyan this weekend.
The pair meet in the main event of UFC Vegas 5 — originally the co-feature, until COVID-19 knocked Irene Aldana off the card.
The surging Shahbazyan, an undefeated talent managed by Ronda Rousey and trained by her coach, has turned heads since entering the UFC off the Contender Series in 2018. He’s won his first four fights, against increasingly stiff competition.
Brunson (20-7) recognizes that he’s the next step up. Speaking to Cageside Press and other media outlets at the UFC Vegas 5 media day this week, the veteran middleweight opined that he’s “definitely a step up in competition” for the 22-year old. At the same time, he added, Shahbazyan “did what he needs to do. You want to be considered as a prospect. You come in and you win your first couple fights, and now he’s got a step up and a test.”
The focus ahead of the card has been on the youngster, despite this being the third time Brunson will have headlined a UFC event. Despite that apparent snub, Brunson is not upset.
“All that stuff doesn’t bother me. My job is to go out there and get the win by any means. So That’s what I’m focused on and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.
One interesting twist in this main event scrap is that it will be just three rounds. Since just after UFC 133, all main events have been five rounds. Shahbazyan would later suggest that it was Brunson’s camp who declined a 25 minute bout. For his part, Brunson stated that “it wasn’t so much that it was out of the question. It was just we had a week notice and I think both parties have been training for three rounds. So it was just a natural thing to do, I guess.”
Watch the full UFC Vegas 5 media day press scrum with Derek Brunson above.