It has been almost two years since Edmen Shahbazyan stepped into Las Vegas’ UFC Training Center to impress UFC president Dana White for a contract with mixed-martial art’s most lucrative promotion.
On that sweltering July evening, Shahbazyan knocked out his opponent in just 40 seconds in an empty venue and was signed onto the UFC roster. Since then, the Los Angeles native, who currently resides in Glendale, Calif., has rocketed up the UFC’s middleweight (185 pound) division with signature wins in packed arenas from Las Vegas to New York City that have propelled him to No. 9 in the rankings.
“The Golden Boy” will soon have another opportunity to rise in the rankings when he takes on No. 8-ranked middleweight contender Derek Brunson on August 1st at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Much like the tryout for White, the televised bout will take place behind closed doors as the UFC continues to host events in empty venues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly it doesn’t make a difference for me,” said Shahbazyan during a Zoom interview last week. “Of course the fans make the place energetic, but as far as going in there and getting the job done, it’s not different.”
Shahbazyan hopes to maintain an undefeated run as long as possible in his young career. The 22 year-old entered the UFC with seven straight first-round knockouts, before rattling off four straight victories in his first four fights. After solely relying on his knockout power early in his career, Shahbazyan has evolved as a fighter by finishing his last three opponents in the first round in a variety of different ways.
At UFC 235, Shahbazyan showed his exemplary power by delivering elbow strikes to knock out his opponent, Charles Byrd. At UFC 239, Shahbazyan exemplified his versatile arsenal, using his grappling skills to defeat Jack Marshman via submission. Then, at UFC 244 in November, Shahbazyan employed his kickboxing skills, knocking out Brad Tavares with a vicious head kick.
“Winning in different ways keeps your opponent (on his heels),” explained Shahbazyan. “He doesn’t know what to expect basically. I think just going in there and doing everything you can is the best way and that’s what’s been happening recently.”
Shahbazyan’s success has made him a household name among not only MMA fans, but also Armenians around the world. He always honors his roots by draping the Armenian tri-color on his shoulders during his walks into the octagon and after his victories. Shahbazyan says the support from the Armenian community has been invigorating. “They have my back…I get an extra bit of energy when I go to perform.”
Shahbazyan has also been backed by legendary former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who used to train under Shahbazyan’s current coach Edmond Tarverdyan at Glendale Fighting Club.
“She’s a big influence,” said Shahbazyan of Rousey’s unconditional support. “Watching her succeed the way she did in the short amount of time, and getting to see that first hand was motivational and incredible to see in person.”
Shahbazyan hopes a victory over Brunson will fast-track his journey to the championship belt. With a win, he wants a scheduled bout against a top-five opponent and then eventually a shot at the middleweight title. He also hopes his continued success helps bring the UFC to Armenia someday.
“When I get bigger and I have a bigger name, I would definitely love to [headline an event in Yerevan.] It will be very emotional. It’s never been done before, and the UFC has never even been there, so for me to be able to do that will be insane.”