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Edmen Shahbazyan has come a long way from being Ronda Rousey’s open workout partner at UFC 157

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Back in 2013 as Ronda Rousey was just about to make her UFC debut, she put on an open workout for the first time in front of an adoring crowd in Anaheim, Calif.

She hit pads with head coach Edmond Tarverdyan and then practiced her judo throws with a 15-year-old training partner who grew up in the gym alongside her as she transitioned from judo to mixed martial arts. Rousey flipped and tossed him around as she got warmed up with the crowd cheering her on just days away from a seismic moment in combat sports history as she introduced women’s fighting to the UFC.

Seven years later, Rousey is essentially retired from competition, but that teenager who got thrown around the mats that day, ended up becoming one of the top prospects on the entire UFC roster and his name is Edmen Shabazyan.

“If you go back it was her fight with Liz Carmouche, I was the person she was tossing around at the open workouts,” Shahbazyan revealed when speaking to MMA Fighting. “If you go back to those videos, I was the guy getting tossed around.”

Being Rousey’s training partner was part of Shahbazyan’s introduction to the sport while also learning from Tarverdyan, who remains his head coach to this day.

Now 22, Shahbazyan is undefeated in his fighting career with a perfect 11-0 record including four straight wins in the UFC. He’s come a long way from being Rousey’s open workout partner but he continues to learn from her because the former UFC champion is now his manager and along with Tarverdyan, they’ve remained a constant presence in his career.

“Everyday, I learn something from them,” Shahbazyan said about Rousey and Tarverdyan. “Having them by my side, means so much. They’re like mentors to me. They manage me and they coach me and they’re mentors to me. So it’s cool having the relationship I have with them.

“They always help me and I always help them. We want to always build together. Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they don’t want to help. They always want to help. I like it like that and that’s the relationship we have.”

It’s hard to narrow down one piece of advice that he’s received from Rousey or Tarverdyan that stands out ahead of the rest but Shahbazyan says there’s one underlying theme that he’s learned from them that always sticks with him.

“They teach me to appreciate all the great stuff in my life,” Shahbazyan said. “Great stuff inside or outside the Octagon, it’s all great stuff. I can’t say enough good things about them.”

While his days trading judo throws with Rousey have long since passed — Shahbazyan says he weighed maybe 140 pounds back in 2013 — he’s still following in her footsteps with his rapid rise up the UFC ranks.

Gallery Photo: UFC 157 Workout Photos

In March, Shahbazyan will take another step towards his ultimate goal of duplicating Rousey’s success when he faces Derek Brunson at UFC 248 in a fight that could put him within spitting distance of a title shot.

Brunson has engaged in memorable battles with former champion Robert Whittaker and current top ranked contender Yoel Romero. He’s also snuffed a number of rising middleweight prospects over the years, which makes Brunson the biggest obstacle that Shahbazyan has been asked to hurdle during his young career.

“I believe it’s the right next step,” Shahbazyan said about the Brunson fight. “We’re not trying to rush anything. Just taking it one fight at a time. I think it’s a great next step that the UFC did. I’ll be prepared. I’m prepared to beat everybody in the division but we’re going to take it one fight at a time and I’ll get there.”

A win would almost guarantee Shahbazyan a chance to face one of the top five fighters in the division, which could the earn him the title shot that he covets so much.

That’s a lot of pressure to heap on the shoulders of such a young fighter but thankfully he’s been preparing for this moment even longer than his introduction as Rousey’s sparring partner seven years ago.

“I’ve been wanting to be here ever since I joined the UFC,” Shahbazyan said. “I knew this was going to come. When you perform good, the UFC puts you on the fast track. I was just prepared from the start. When you get in the UFC, it’s all top level guys so as long as you work hard and dedicate yourself to the sport, that’s all that matters. I believe that’s what I have. A lot of dedication to this sport.

“I take the pressure and everything well. I thrive off it. Whether it’s Brunson or a title fight, I’m going to love it. I’m going to be calm and collected in there and not going to get any extra jitters. Just taking it calm and relaxed.”