For the first time in his life, Edmen Shahbazyan has experienced the sour taste of defeat.
The young middleweight fighter’s quest to become the youngest UFC champion ever took a hit on Saturday night after losing via technical knockout in the third round to Derek Brunson in Las Vegas.
Shahbazyan entered the fight as an undefeated heavy favorite after winning 10 of his first 11 professional fights in the first-round and racking up nine knockouts.
But Saturday was Brunson’s night, as the 36-year-old veteran generated momentum with a dominant second round and later knocked out the Glendale, Calif. resident 26 seconds into the third and final frame of the bout.
The first round of the fight was fairly even as both combatants had moments of success. Shahbazyan relied on a series of body strikes, while Brunson landed a takedown. Two of the three judges gave the round to Brunson.
But the turning point of the fight came in the second round when Brunson inadvertently poked the 22-year-old in the eye, temporarily halting the fight. Shahbazyan appeared to be in pain following the eye poke, but assured fight official Herb Dean that he was well enough to continue.
After the pause, however, Shahbazyan did not look the same. Brunson landed two more takedowns, while out-striking Shahbazyan, 54-11 in the second round. Brunson also gave Shahbazyan a severe cut under his left eye and with time ticking down in the round, delivered heavy blows to the head while Shahbazyan was on his back. The Armenian was saved by the bell, and the fight went into the third round, where Brunson continued his onslaught until Dean stopped the fight.
The No. 9-ranked Shahbazyan fell to 11-1 in his career and will likely slip slightly in the middleweight rankings as he continues to pursue UFC legend Jon Jones’ record of becoming the youngest UFC champion ever. Jones accomplished the feat at 23 years, 8 months and one day old in 2011. Shahbazyan has until July 19, 2021 to break that record.
Despite taking more physical damage than any other fight during his career, Shahbazyan gave a positive update to fans on his Instagram account following the fight.
Following his win, Brunson had nothing but positive remarks for Shahbazyan, who exemplified maturity leading up to the fight with minimal trash talk in a sport that sometimes rewards and promotes fighters who engage in verbal warfare more than those who show sportsmanship.
“I actually like the kid. He seems like a very solid kid,” commented Brunson during a press conference following his win. “He supports the Black Lives Matter movement. I know I had to (postpone) our fight due to a little injury, but he didn’t say anything negative…You want to see good people do well. We clashed today, but I look forward to seeing him do well in the future.”
Shahbazyan might be silent toward his opponents, but he made a major statement during his walkout with the flag of Artsakh draped over his shoulders; he later hung it in his corner in support of Armenian forces in the ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan. As a professional Armenian athlete, Shahbazyan has not been shy about using his platform to promote Armenian causes.
“I think it’s very important because we don’t have as many big Armenian influencers in the world, and for me to be one of them is incredible and a big deal,” Shahbazyan told the Weekly before the fight.
The patriotic gesture reportedly drew the ire of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, whose US consulate general in Los Angeles sent a letter of protest to UFC president Dana White. In the letter, the consulate reportedly asked White to discipline Shahbazyan for displaying a flag of an “internationally unrecognized illegal regime” and reminded the promotion that its rules limit fighters to display flags of internationally recognized states.
In 2019, Hawaiian fighter Max Holloway said UFC’s apparel partner, Reebok, would not allow him to walk out with the Hawaiian flag because it was a state flag. According to Holloway, the apparel company only approved of flags of nations for fighter walkouts. However, White was supportive of Holloway and allowed him to walk out with the Hawaiian flag anyway. In 2016, Assyrian fighter Beneil Dariush had a similar situation, when he tweeted that he was not allowed to walk out with the Assyrian people flag because of the policy.
Following the loss, Shahbazyan fell from No. 9 to No. 10 in the UFC middleweight rankings on Tuesday morning.