No one has higher expectations for Edmen Shahbazyan than the goals he’s set for himself.
Despite being just 22 years old, the former Dana White Contender Series veteran has already gone 4-0 in the UFC with his past three wins coming by knockout or submission - without a single opponent making it out of the first round. Now, he will have the opportunity to compete in his first main event when he faces Derek Brunson this weekend in Las Vegas.
While the UFC has been accused of feeding top prospects to the wood chipper before they’re ready, Shahbazyan embraced the opportunity to face a top 10 opponent because a win on Saturday night will put him back on course for an achievement he’s had tucked in the back of his head ever since making his debut.
“I know being the youngest champion is at 23 years and 8 months by Jon Jones,” Shahbazyan said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I turn 23 in November and then I have eight months after that. That leaves me until July of next year.
“That’s a good amount of time for me to reach my goal of being champion. That’s one year from now, and I believe the way I’m going with a couple more wins, it will put me in that position to make that goal into reality.”
There’s nothing wrong with lofty goals, but Shahbazyan certainly isn’t the first fighter who wanted to shatter Jones’ record.
It wasn’t that long ago that Maycee Barber championed herself as the best person to beat Jones’ mark. Before that, Aaron Pico was considered one of the brightest young talents the sport has ever seen and he felt like becoming champion even before his 23rd birthday was attainable.
What may separate Shahbazyan from the rest of the pack, however, is that he’s actually been preparing for a moment like this since he was barely a teenager.
Before he was even old enough to drive a car, Shahbazyan was a skinny martial arts enthusiast growing up under the same coaches who prepared Ronda Rousey for her career inside the octagon. In fact, Shahbazyan famously served as Rousey’s sparring partner during an open workout ahead of her debut against Liz Carmouche back in 2013.
Seven years later, Shahbazyan has left Rousey’s shadow and made a name for himself in the UFC … and he’s not backing down from his ambitions to hold UFC gold before he celebrates another birthday next year.
“I’m coming for that belt eventually,” Shahbazyan said. “I want to make statements. I want to keep getting better. I want to fight top ranked opponents and bettering myself.”
If all goes well against Brunson this weekend, Shahbazyan will take a decided step forward towards that eventual title shot.
While he will gladly face whoever possesses the UFC middleweight championship at the time, Shahbazyan would be remiss if he didn’t think about an epic clash with current 185-pound king Israel Adesanya, who boasts a similar undefeated record in his career.
Of course, Shahbazyan knows Brunson is his next test and Adesanya has to go through Brazilian wrecking ball Paulo Costa in September but he truly believes they are on an eventual collision course to face off in 2021.
“I think he gets past Costa,” Shahbazyan said about Adesanya’s upcoming fight at UFC 253. “I think he’s going to be slick for Costa and counter him. I think Costa has more of that coming in your face and getting you into a fight with him and that tires you. I think Adesanya will get out of the way and tag him up.
“I think Adesanya is a good fighter. A very slick fighter and a good champion. He’s definitely a challenge that I would love to face in the near future. It would be amazing. That’s definitely the fight I see in the future.”
Don’t worry about Shahbazyan getting too ahead of himself because he’s only talking about Adesanya because that’s a matchup that he sees in his future, but it’s not his focus for now.
That said, he can’t help but envision a future where he’s battling for the UFC title with “The Last Stylebender” standing across from him.
“I like to dream big and dreaming big and accomplishing that kind of goal would be amazing for me,” Shahbazyan said. “Not only would I be the youngest champion, but I’d be the first ever Armenian-American champion. So two good things in one.”