Edmen Shahbazyan had a goal. That goal was to become the youngest champion in UFC history. Jon Jones currently holds that record. Jones began his first stint as UFC light heavyweight champion on March 19, 2011. At the time he won the belt with a TKO win over Mauricio Rua, Jones was 23. Last night, the 22-year-old Shahbazyan faced Derek Brunson in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 31, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
The 36-year-old Brunson entered the cage last night as the No. 8 ranked fighter in the 185-pound division. Shahbazyan checked in at No. 9. Despite his age and his lack of UFC experience, Shahbazyan was favored over Brunson.
Brunson has often been criticized for recklessly rushing into exchanges with his chin exposed. That has cost him in some high-profile fights in the past. There was some of that in his bout against Shahbazyan, but it appeared as if Brunson made a conscious effort to avoid that approach.
The more reserved approach worked well for Brunson. His striking was on point and his takedowns were effective against his younger opponent. Another thing that served Brunson well was his chin and ability to absorb big strikes to his body.
Shahbazyan threw every strike as if he were hoping it would end the fight. With Brunson able to take those blows, Shahbazyan’s gas tank ran low in the second round. That’s when Brunson took complete control of the fight. Brunson nearly finished the scrap with ground strikes in the closing seconds of the second stanza.
Shahbazyan was shaky heading to his corner between the second and third round and there was some question if he would answer the bell to start the third stanza. He did, but he only lasted 26 seconds of the third round before Brunson’s striking brought referee Herb Dean in to wave off the fight.
The loss was the first of Shahbazyan’s career. With the victory, Brunson’s winning streak extended to three straight victories. The finish was the first for Brunson since he stopped Lyoto Machida in 2017.
UFC on ESPN+ 31 took place at UFC APEX. The entire card streamed on ESPN+.