Derek Brunson was feeling a little bit overlooked and disrespected heading into his headlining bout against Edmen Shahbazyan at UFC Fight Night 173.
Despite a resume that includes victories over the likes of Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall, Ian Heinisch, Lorenz Larkin, Chris Leben and bouts against Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Ronaldo Souza and Yoel Romero, the Wilmington, North Carolina, native was a considerable underdog against the previously unbeaten Shahbazyan.
“I had to get off social media all week,” Brunson said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I’d kind of glance at it and turn away. I wasn’t reading no Facebook or Instagram. Everybody was, ‘You’re going to get dogged. You’re going to get beat up real bad.'”
After a competitive opening round that saw Shahbazyan landing some solid combinations and knees to the body, Brunson gradually took control behind his wrestling. The Sanford MMA representative nearly ended the contest with heavy ground-and-pound at the close of Round 2 before finishing the job with another takedown and more punishment 26 seconds into the final stanza.
After being finished in back-to-back outings by Souza and Adesanya in 2018, Brunson has authored a three-bout winning streak that includes triumphs over Shahbazyan, Ian Heinisch and Elias Theodorou. There have been numerous occasions where Brunson says he fought even when he shouldn’t have, but he reaped the rewards of a full camp this time around.
“I’m not given enough respect in this division,” Brunson said. “I’m OK with earning it. There have been fights where I’ve had the flu. I went to the doctor to nurse myself back to health – and five days later to fight. … We had a hurricane in North Carolina, and I was home with the family, making sure everything was OK. I had to fight 10 days after that when I wasn’t training for two weeks.
“Nobody cares about those excuses. But whenever I have a fight, yes, I want to prepare properly and get a full camp in with the guys down there with Henri Hooft and Sanford MMA to get me ready for these big fights.”
Prior to Saturday night, Shahbazyan harbored dreams of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history, and he looked to be well on the way to achieving his goal with four straight victories – including a trio of first-round finishes – in the Octagon. Though Brunson disagrees with the concept of building fighters that sometimes occurs in combat sports, he believes Shahbazyan earned the opportunity to face a more experienced opponent.
“I don’t think MMA should be building,” Brunson said. “You look at the NFL [or] NBA – if you’re good, you play. MMA needs to stop building fighters up. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough to fight. You fight whoever is close in the rankings. You go out there and earn it. There should be no favoritism or, ‘Oh, look at him. He’s young.’ If you’re earning your spot, yeah, fight somebody tough. Keep working your way up.
“He went out there and knocked Tavares out. Tavares is no joke. Yeah, he earned this fight. Everybody had me getting smoked until I go out there and get a victory. Man, everybody’s got to earn their stripes. He earned the fight, and I went out there and earned the victory.”
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