MMAOB staff writer Adam Martin takes a deeper look at the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 31, a three-round middleweight bout between Edmen Shahbazyan and Derek Brunson. The event takes place on Saturday, August 1 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Edmen Shahbazyan (-335)
Shahbazyan (11-0) is the No. 9 ranked middleweight in the UFC. The 22-year-old American made his MMA debut in 2017 and joined the UFC in 2018. Since then, he’s gone 4-0 with wins over Brad Tavares, Jack Marshman, Charles Byrd, and Darren Stewart. Out of his 11 career wins, 10 of them have come by first-round stoppage. Shahbazyan is incredibly fast and he possesses huge knockout power in his limbs. His grappling has been improving as well, making him a dangerous, well-rounded fighter on the rise. Shahbazyan is managed by UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey and she has her pupil on the fast track to getting into the conversation for the UFC middleweight title soon.
Derek Brunson (+270)
Brunson (20-7) is the No. 8 ranked middleweight in the UFC. The 36-year-old American is 11-5 overall in the UFC since joining the promotion in 2012. His notable wins include Ian Heinisch, Lyoto Machida, Uriah Hall, Lorenz Larkin, Sam Alvey, and Ed Herman, with losses to Israel Adesanya, Ronaldo Souza, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva, and Yoel Romero. Brunson began his career as just a wrestler and he still has that base at this point in his career. However, he also has huge knockout power in his hands and at one point he had won seven fights straight by knockout. The problem with Brunson historically has been his chin as he’s been knocked out five times. However, if he is able to survive and not get finished, he has proven to be very difficult to defeat on the cards.
Fight Breakdown: This should be a really interesting fight and I love the matchmaking here as it pits an up-and-comer in Shahbazyan against a veteran in Brunson. Shahbazyan has pretty much run through everyone he’s fought so far in his career, but Brunson presents a lot of challenges with his grinding wrestling ability, his knockout power, and his cardio. Brunson also has a longer reach and is a southpaw, which adds another wrinkle to this matchup. Overall, though, I would have to give Shahbazyan a big advantage on the feet in speed and sheer KO power. If Shahbazyan is able to keep this fight standing, he should be able to land the knockout blow at some point in the 15 minutes. But if Brunson can shoot for takedowns and get the fight to the mat, he has the ability to make this a grinding fight and win a decision on the scorecards. With Shahbazyan being 14 years younger and not showing many holes in his game, I have to pick him here, and if he wins he likely gets the job done by knockout. But I do believe Brunson is a live dog here with his wrestling. In a three-round fight, I wouldn’t be shocked if Brunson was able to win a gritty decision. So while I am going to pick Shahbazyan to get the stoppage win here, the odds don’t seem worth betting on to me.
Prediction: Edmen Shahbazyan wins via TKO