After completing its Fight Island Series in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, the UFC returns to its APEX Facility in Las Vegas for UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Shahbazyan on August 1, 2020.
Headlining the event are two Top 10 middleweights in #8 Derek Brunson and #9 Edmen Shahbazyan. These two were supposed to fight last March 7th at UFC 248. The bout was rescheduled for April 11th in the undercard of Overeem vs Harris but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that event was canceled. Later, these two were booked for the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 173 or UFC on ESPN+ 31 this coming weekend. But with the main event between Holly Holm and Irene Aldana called off after the latter tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, they were promoted to main event status.
Brunson is trying to get back to the top after back to back losses to Jacare Souza and current UFC middleweight king Israel Adesanya. He’s picked up two straight wins and is looking for a big one against the unbeaten prospect Shahbazyan. On the other hand, Shahbazyan is searching for the first big name on his resume. The 22-year old is undefeated in 11 MMA bouts with 10 stoppage wins. Shahbazyan’s stock will take a leap if he beats the veteran Brunson.
Derek Brunson is the 8th ranked middleweight contender in the UFC. The former NCAA Division II All-American wrestler out of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke started his MMA career for Carolina’s Summer Fight Series and Strikeforce before joining the UFC in 2012. Brunson has fought but lost to former MMA champions like Anderson Siva, Lyoto Machida, Robert Whitaker, and Ronaldo Souza.
Brunson stands 6-1 tall with a reach of 77 inches and is a southpaw fighter. This 36-year old from Wilmington in North Carolina has a record of 20-7 with 11 knockouts and three wins via submission. After going 2-4 from 2016-2018, Brunson won back to back fights against Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch.
He lands an average of 3.39 significant strikes per minute with a striking accuracy of 45%. Brunson gets hit by an average of 2.91 significant strikes per minute and has a striking defense of 54%. On the ground, Brunson completes an average of 2.80 takedowns per 14 minutes with a takedown accuracy of 29%. He has never been taken down before and has a takedown defense of 100%.
Brunson’s last three losses have been by knockout so although he’s won back to back bouts, we’re not seeing the same confidence from Derek Brunson. Brunson is an explosive fighter who has an NCAA wrestling background. He’s tough to beat when he’s dictating the pace and applying pressure on his opponents. However, he struggles when his opponents slow the fight’s pace, and his chin has given up on him several times already.
Edmen Shahbazyan is the 9th ranked middleweight in the UFC. The 22-year old from Glendale in California is more popularly known as the sparring partner of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. He fought for CXF before appearing in Dana White’s Contender Series where he knocked out Antonio Jones in 40 seconds.
The Golden Boy is 6-2 tall with a reach of 74 inches and fights out of the orthodox stance. He has an unblemished record of 11-0 with nine knockouts and one win via submission. Shahbazyan is 5-0 under the UFC with three knockouts and one submission victory. He is coming off a sensational head kick knockout of veteran Brad Tavares at UFC 244.
Shahbazyan connects on an average of 4.11 significant strikes per minute and he has an accuracy of 52%. He absorbs an average of 2.16 significant strikes per minute and has a striking defense of 62%. Shahbazyan completes an average of 6.77 takedowns per 15 minutes with a 40% takedown rate and a takedown defense of 74%.
Shahbazyan has looked like gold in the UFC. He’s stopped four opponents inside the octagon and has a knack for ending his fights early. He is one of the UFC’s top prospects and despite his young age, he is an all-around fighter who can win with his feet and on the mat. His drawback is the lack of experience and that’s what he’s going to earn here against Brunson.
Shahbazyan opened as a -270 favorite against Brunson’s +230. His current odds of -265 at BetOnline is the best odds you’ll get if you want to pick the favorite for this bout. On the other hand, Brunson’s current +230 at Bovada is the best value on the underdog as of 7/27/20.
After he was a favorite for eight consecutive bouts where he went 6-2, Brunson has opened and closed as the underdog in each of his last four bouts. He’s gone 2-2 in those bouts and won as an underdog against Ian Heinisch and Elias Theodorou. He enters this bout as a sizeable underdog once again versus an undefeated rising prospect.
Shahbazyan has been favored in his first five UFC bouts and he’s won four of those bouts by stoppage. The only time he’s been a bigger favorite in the UFC is when he fought Jack Marshman whom he choked out at 1:12 at UFC 239. Brunson is also the biggest name he’s faced after Brad Tavares whom he knocked out via head kick in his last fight at UFC 244.
Despite the fact that this bout has been promoted to main event status, the UFC confirmed that this will remain as a three-round bout because of the short notice given to both fighters that their bout would be the new main event after Aldana’s withdrawal. This should be to the advantage of Shahbazyan who has gone past one round only once in his entire MMA career.
Brunson has been a very good fighter throughout his career but he has been more of a stepping stone and gatekeeper rather than a serious contender. He is 4-4 in his last eight bouts but is coming off back to back wins. However, he is already 36-years old and has had a long career where he has taken significant damage compared to his opponents. He has been gun-shy and hesitant as of late.
Shahbazyan is 14 years younger and is undefeated in 11 bouts. He is a well-rounded fighter who can grapple on the mat or box on his feet. But what is impressive about him is his 91% finishing rate.
Shahbazyan has finished 9 opponents inside the first round and we’ve seen Brunson get knocked out in the opening round four times before, including three out of his last four losses. Sure, he fought top-quality opposition during those losses but obviously, this isn’t the same Derek Brunson who got robbed against Anderson Silva.
Knowing his opponent’s knockout power, I expect Brunson to be timid like he was when he fought Israel Adesanya. He will be thinking twice about trying to exchange and if he doesn’t let his hands go, Shahbazyan will swarm him and hit him with that big punch that ends this fight. If he engages, Brunson still has the power but he doesn’t have the same explosiveness he used to have. I think Shahbazyan will be too fast and too strong here. I like the youngster to pick up the biggest win of his UFC career.
Prediction: Edmen Shahbazyan (-265)
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