UFC on ESPN+ 31 breakdown: How ready is Edmen Shahbazyan for his biggest test?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC on ESPN+ 31.

UFC on ESPN+ 31 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.

Derek Brunson (20-6 MMA, 11-4 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 36 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 77″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Ian Heinisch(Aug. 17, 2019)
  • Camp: Sanford MMA (Florida)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt
+ 3x Division 2 All-American wrestler
+ 11 KO victories
+ 3 submission wins
+ 14 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Solid feints and footwork
+ Dangerous left kicks and crosses
+ Strong pressure against the fence
^ Strikes well off of the breaks
+ Excellent wrestling ability
^ 100 percent takedown defense
+ Well-rounded takedown ability
+ Underrated grappling
^ Transitions and strikes well from topside

Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 22 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 74″
  • Last fight: KO win over Brad Tavares(Nov. 2, 2019)
  • Camp: Glendale Fighting Club (Calfornia)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ Amateur boxing experience
+ High school wrestling accolades
+ Shotokan karate black belt
+ 9 KO victories
+ 1 submission win
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Shows solid feel for range
+ Good boxing ability
^ Accurate shot selection
+ Fast knees and calf kicks
+ Stong inside the clinch
+ Displays decent wrestling abilities
^ Offensively and defensively
+ Serviceable transitional grappling

Point of interest: Striking with a southpaw

The main event in Las Vegas features a fun middleweight matchup between a fast-rising prospect and a veteran southpaw slugger.

Despite storming onto the UFC stage through the portal that is Dana White’s Contender Series, Edmen Shahbazyan has passed all of his subsequent tests since, commanding some deserved attention in the process.

Shahbazyan combines two of my favorite forms of striking – boxing and karate – to make for a unique middleweight threat. A Shotokan karate black belt, Shahbazyan demonstrates a solid amalgamation of both the speed and power that is associated with this more heavier-set iteration of karate, showing the inherent feel for range that is often stereotyped with traditional stylists.

Utilizing his sense of space confidently, Shahbazyan will use subtle changes in speed once establishing his reads, either firing tight jab-cross continuums down the pipe (a la Nathan Diaz or Zachary Makovsky) or looking to collapse the pocket and swarm his opposition off of extended shots.

Shahbazyan also wields deceptively fast kicks, particularly off his lead side, which seem to flow symbiotically off of his punches, whether they be in an intercepting or corralling effort. That said, Shahbazyan – like a lot of tall, traditionally based fighters – appears to have a head that’s there to be hit upon entry, as he’ll need to respect the southpaw power coming back at him.

Enter Derek Brunson

From his time spent with Jackson Wink MMA to his specialty training with muay Thai legend Manu Ntoh, Brunson has become a lot more than just an All-American wrestler who can throw his hands.

Whether Brunson is stalking opponents down with Thai marches or his subtle shuffle-step variations, the 10-year pro will put himself in prime position to land shots from the power side of his southpaw stance. Having a knack placing powerful kicks, Brunson also has improved his hands over that past few years, being particularly dangerous when punching his way in or out of the pocket.

However, despite Brunson’s previous improvements, his brawling instincts have proven to sometimes get the better of him, either costing him emphatic counters in defeat or lackluster affairs that have resulted in close decision losses.

Since suffering his last defeat at the hands of now-champion Israel Adesanya, Brunson has finally gotten himself back under the care of a big camp, hooking up with Henri Hooft and company at Sandford MMA. In the subsequent time, we have seen Brunson bring a much more measured and balanced approach to his pressure en route to his recent victories, displaying the ability to fight at a decent pace for three rounds.

Though I’m sure that experience likely will serve Brunson well on paper, I suspect that he’ll need to successfully layer his threats with offensive wrestling if he means to properly get his game going.

Next point of interest: Winning the wrestling

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