Experience and guile still count for something in the cage—a lesson Derek Brunson taught Edmen Shahbazyan with violent clarity.
Brunson reaffirmed himself as a Top 10 middleweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and dispatched the previously undefeated Glendale Fighting Club prospect with punches in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 173 headliner on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Shahbazyan, who entered the cage with a perfect 11-0 record, succumbed to blows 26 seconds into Round 3.
In a bid to shed his gatekeeper label, a measured Brunson followed the blueprint laid out by Sanford MMA trainer Henri Hooft. He shook off Shahbazyan’s best shots—they included sweeping hooks and jarring kicks to the body—and dragged the talented but unproven Californian into uncharted territory. Fatigue set in, and Brunson nearly finished it late in the second round. There, he struck for a takedown, settled in side control and advanced to mount under cover of heavy ground-and-pound, opening a cut near Shahbazyan’s right eye with a crushing elbow strike before unleashing a torrent of punches until the bell sounded. Though he was allowed to continue at the start of Round 3, Shahbazyan was fighting on borrowed time. Brunson drove him to the canvas once more, let his hands go and forced referee Herb Dean to step in.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Brunson vs. Shahbazyan,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Derek Brunson vs. Jack Hermansson: Brunson, 36, has blossomed under Hooft’s tutelage, piecing together a three-fight winning streak since he suffered a technical knockout loss to current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 230 a little less than two years ago. Whether or not he can ride his resurgence to the top of the 185-pound weight class remains to be seen, but at the very least, he adds quality depth to the division. Brunson outlanded Shahbazyan by a 75-19 margin and executed three of his four takedowns after a competitive first round, effectively drowning the 22-year-old with pressure and pace. Hermansson last appeared at UFC Fight Night 172, where he submitted Kelvin Gastelum with a first-round heel hook on July 18.
Jennifer Maia vs. Valentina Shevchenko: Opportunity knocked, and Maia answered. The former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder submitted Joanne Calderwood with an armbar in the first round of their flyweight co-main event. Calderwood conceded defeat 4:29 into Round 1, as she tapped for the first time in nearly four years. Maia clipped the Syndicate MMA standout with crisp punching combinations, waded through a series of kicks from “JoJo” and kept her composure after being taken down. The Brazilian framed the armbar, adjusted her grip during a desperate scramble and bent Calderwood’s arm beyond its bounds for the finish. Shevchenko retained her flyweight championship in February, when she put away Katlyn Chookagian with elbows and punches in the third round of their UFC 247 pairing.
Vicente Luque vs. Geoff Neal-Neil Magny winner: Luque won for the eighth time in nine appearances, as he cut down Randy Brown with a devastating knee strike and follow-up punches in the second round of their featured welterweight clash. Brown bowed out 4:56 into Round 2. Still one of the most underrated and underappreciated threats in the 170-pound weight class, Luque targeted the onetime Ring of Combat champion’s lower leg with kicks, pieced together punching volleys, countered effectively and walked through a persistent jab from the New York-based Jamaican. He pinned Brown to the cage late in the second round, snatched a front headlock and delivered the knee that set the stage for the stoppage. Neal and Magny will square off at UFC Fight Night 176 on Aug. 29.
Bobby Green vs. Leonardo Santos: Superior horsepower and technique carried Green to a unanimous decision over Lando Vannata in a three-round lightweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it for the former King of the Cage champion: 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27. Vannata—who fought Green to a draw in 2017—connected on occasion but had no answers for the Californian’s speed, head movement and combination punching. Green floored the Jackson-Wink MMA rep with a close-range elbow in the third round, assumed top position and ultimately climbed to full mount, as he iced his second victory in less than two months with a strong final five minutes. Santos last competed at UFC 251, where he weathered a foul-filled confrontation and took a unanimous decision from Roman Bogatov on July 11.
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