The card took place without spectators at UFC Apex, a promotion-owned facility directly across from its corporate campus. It was the first event in the United States after a month-long race in July on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, nicknamed Fight Island.
Brunson said in his post-fight interview that he was disappointed to be a big underdog. He said he’s been 3-0 since training with coach Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA – and remembered the advice Hooft gave him when he got to the gym from South Florida.
“So many people were betting against me and had negative things to say. [But] I had so much support – more than the negative, ”Brunson said. »… Since I went there, [Hooft’s] believed in me. He always said, “You are not a keeper. Show these guys you got it. Do you want a title? Let’s go. ‘ I am ecstatic at the moment. ”
Brunson was an upcoming +290 underdog. It was the biggest surprise in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping (+400) knocked out Luke Rockhold to win the UFC middleweight title at UFC 199 in 2016, ESPN research shows. Stats & Information.
The first lap was very close. Shahbazyan landed straight hands and a big knee. Brunson managed to bring down Shahbazyan and connect on the left hand. In the second, Brunson took over, wearing down Shahbazyan with his high pace and wrestling.
Brunson managed to get a pullout on the tired Shahbazyan late in the second, slip into dominance and land huge ground. Brunson crushed Shahbazyan with a big elbow which left Shahbazyan bloodied. Referee Herb Dean was about to step in to end it when the bell rang to end the round.
“I cracked it with a big elbow [at the end of the second round] and I heard Coach Hooft say, ‘Two more elbows’, ”Brunson said. I cracked him with another and thought the ref was going to stop him there. He did not do it. I regained my composure and listened to my corner. ”
When the third started, Brunson started attacking again. He stepped forward with a big left hand, knocked Shahbazyan down and landed more on the ground. This time, Dean had a quick hook and called it off, awarding Brunson a TKO.
Brunson said his immediate thoughts were on home to see his family after being separated for the past four weeks while training for Shahbazyan. He said he would start thinking about his next opponent with his coaches within a week.
Brunson (21-7) is considered one of the toughest strikeouts in the middleweight division. The North Carolina native is now on a three-game winning streak. Brunson, 36, has lost only to current and former champions since 2016: Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Brunson is now tied with three others for the third most finishes in UFC middleweight history (8).
UFC President Dana White was impressed with Brunson’s performance.
« [Brunson] looked awesome tonight. He came up against a promising young savage who wanted to be the youngest champion ever, “White said.” And he did what he needed to do tonight. And it looked good. ”
The 22-year-old Shahbazyan (11-1) had won all four of his UFC fights, including the previous three via the first round finish. The California native had been considered one of the best blue shredders on the UFC list. Shahbazyan trains at Glendale Fighting Club under the guidance of trainer Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey’s longtime mentor. Shahbazyan, a protégé of the two, is led by Tarverdyan and Rousey.
White said he was not disappointed with Shahbazyan’s performance, even as he suffered his first UFC setback.
“Everyone knew no matter what the odds said [that] he’s coming in against an experienced guy, ”White said. Brunson fought everyone – everyone. Shahbazyan did not fight everyone. This is where you find out where a guy is. You put him against Derek Brunson. “