The career paths of a pair of middleweight contenders crossed paths Saturday night at the UFC Apex Facility in Las Vegas.
Edmen ‘The Golden Boy’ Shahbazyan was fighting in his first main event, putting his undefeated record on the line against eighth-ranked Derek Brunson.
The 22-year-old Shahbazyan brought an 11-0 record, including 10 first-round finishes, into the scrap. The world’s ninth-ranked 185-pounder held aspirations of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history.
Bettors across the globe were hammering bets on Shahbazyan, who went from a favorite in the -315 neighborhood to -400 by early Saturday afternoon.
On the other side of the Octagon, the 36-year-old Brunson was looking to improve on his 20-7 career record and 11-5 UFC mark. After back-to-back decision wins over Elias Theodorou and Ian Heinisch, Brunson couldn’t afford a setback in his quest to earn a title shot.
The first round was back and forth, with both fighters landing some good shots. However, Brunson took over in the second round, repeatedly landing his left hand and mixing things up with his wrestling.
With about 40 seconds remaining in the second stanza, Brunson dropped Shahbazyan. From there, it was heavy ground-and-pound punishment by Brunson from the top position.
As you can see in the clip below, Brunson opened up a cut on Shahbazyan with a slicing elbow. Then he hammered ‘The Golden Boy’ with powerful shots that left him badly hurt.
Shahbazyan was saved by the bell and referee Herb Dean told Brunson’s corner loudly, “I didn’t stop it.”
Then before the start of the third round, Dean called the doctor into the Octagon to take a look at Shahbazyan. The conversation took too long and drew the ire of UFC President Dana White afterward.
The doctor eventually allowed Shahbazyan to continue, but Brunson quickly hurt him again and Dean intervened 26 seconds into the third frame.
Brunson cashed tickets as a +300 underdog. Proposition wagers for Brunson to win by KO/TKO hit for a +600 payout at William Hill properties. Other props on Brunson to win inside the distance (+500) and in Round 3 (+2150 at several offshores, +2500 at William Hill!) paid out handsomely.
Gamblers on ‘over’ 1.5 rounds were winners for a +110 return.
“Shahbazyan looked like he was out at the end of that [second] round,” White said. “I think the doctor could have stopped… I don’t know anything about the doctor, but I haven’t seen him before.
“You’ve got Brunson who ends that round strong. Many could argue that fight could have been stopped right there at the end of that round.
“What you don’t do is talk to the guy for 10 minutes while he’s hurt. You either stop the fight or let him continue. But you’re letting the kid recover while you’ve got Brunson, who’s just done that work and is waiting for the bell to ring so he can go in and finish the fight. Pull the trigger one way or another. Stop the fight or don’t.”
Brunson said, “I’d had enough of coming out, putting up bad fights, just stinkers, so I was really locked in for this fight and making sure I was out there executing it.
“I looked really good tonight; I got the finish. I’m just believing and trusting what I’ve been doing lately and that’s what made the difference.”
Somehow Brunson wasn’t given a Performance of the Night bonus. Those went to Jennifer Maia and Vicente Luque.
In the co-main event, Maia defeated Joanne Calderwood via first-round submission (armbar) as a +165 underdog.
Luque, the 11th-ranked welterweight, just keeps racking up wins galore. He improved to 19-7-1 overall and 12-3 in the UFC by scoring a second-round knockout win over Randy Brown. The 28-year-old Brazilian is 8-1 in his last nine Octagon appearances.
Bobby Green and Lando Vannata garnered an extra $50,000 apiece for Fight of the Night honors. After fighting to a split draw at UFC 216 in October of 2017, Green won the rematch by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27) as a +120 underdog.
Shahbazyan posted this picture with a statement late last night on Instagram: