Brunson stops Shahbazyan by third-round TKO


The only way to the top of the UFC’s middleweight division is through Derek Brunson. On Saturday, he slammed that door shut for a red-hot prospect.

Brunson stopped Edmen Shahbazyan via TKO at :26 of the third round in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The previously undefeated Shahbazyan had all the hype coming in — he’s the former training partner of UFC legend Ronda Rousey. But Brunson nearly finished him at the end of the second and then did so early in the third.

The card took place with no spectators at the UFC Apex, a facility owned by the promotion right across from its corporate campus. It was the first event back in the United States after a month-long run in July on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, which was dubbed Fight Island.

Brunson said in his post-fight interview that he was disappointed he was a heavy underdog and had “so many people betting against me.” He said he is 3-0 since going to train under coach Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA — and recalled advice Hooft gave him when he first got to the South Florida gym.

“You’re not a gatekeeper,” Brunson said Hooft told him. “Show this guy you’ve got a [title] run in you. I’m ecstatic.”

Brunson was a +290 underdog coming in. This was the largest upset 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 & Info.

The first round was very tight. Shahbazyan landed some hard right hands and a big knee. Brunson was able to take Shahbazyan down and connect on left hands. In the second, Brunson took over, wearing out Shahbazyan with his high pace and wrestling.

Brunson was able to get a takedown on the tired Shahbazyan late in the second, slip into dominant position and land huge ground and pound. Brunson crushed Shahbazyan with a big elbow that left Shahbazyan bloody. Referee Herb Dean was very close to stepping in to end it when the bell rung to end the round.

When the third began, Brunson started up his onslaught again. He came forward with a big left hand, took Shahbazyan down and landed more ground and pound. This time, Dean had a quick hook and called it off, awarding Brunson a TKO.

Brunson (21-7) is considered one of the toughest outs in the middleweight division. The North Carolina native is now on a three-fight winning streak. Brunson, 36, has lost to only current or former champions since 2016: Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Brunson is now tied with three others for the third most finishes in UFC middleweight history (8).

Shahbazyan (11-1) had won all four of his UFC fights coming in, including the previous three via first-round finish. The California native had been considered one of the top blue-chippers on the UFC roster. Shahbazyan, 22, trains out of Glendale Fighting Club under coach Edmond Tarverdyan, the longtime mentor of Rousey. Shahbazyan, a protégé of both, is managed by Tarverdyan and Rousey.

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