Despite Brunson being a UFC veteran with four times as many fights in the octagon, it’s Shahbazyan who has received the bulk of the attention in the days and weeks ahead of their main event clash on Aug. 1.
At just 22 years old, Shahbazyan has been called the future of the middleweight division. With an undefeated record and three straight finishes in the UFC, Shahbazyan has enjoyed becoming one of the most talked about prospects on the entire roster. He’s even personally stated that his dream is to become the youngest champion in UFC history.
That all adds up to a lot of motivation for Brunson, who has faced the best of the best at 185 pounds and he’s ready to find out if Shahbazyan deserves to be listed among them.
“This is definitely his biggest test to date,” Brunson said about Shahbazyan when speaking to MMA Fighting. “He hasn’t faced anyone like me yet. As seasoned, as gritty, a guy that can match him on speed and strength.
“I’ve been around. I’ve fought in the big fights. To this date, definitely his toughest test.”
With a resume that includes fights against four current or former UFC champions, Brunson already knows what it takes to hang with the top middleweights in the world.
Meanwhile, Shahbazyan is only 11 fights into his professional career, but what Brunson likes most about this matchup is the opportunity to siphon off the hype surrounding his younger opponent as he looks to begin his own charge up the rankings.
“It’s a high profile fight,” Brunson said. “Definitely need to go out there and set the tone. This fight can catapult me into another big fight. Where they’re talking him as a potential title challenger, the same thing they were saying about the last guy I fought (Ian Heinisch) and kind of took his hype away from him.
“This guy right here, he’s talking about being the youngest champion. I go out here and beat him up, that takes everything away. He’s got to reset and that puts me back in the picture and people will start talking about me and my title hunt also.”
Make no mistake, Brunson isn’t looking at Shahbazyan as an easy payday or just a speed bump on his road back to title contention. He just understands that Shahbazyan still has a lot to prove and for now he’s riding high because nobody has been able to knock him off his pedestal yet.
“He’s pretty solid,” Brunson said. “He’s good at what he does. He’s a consistent guy. He likes to come forward, striking based. He’s solid. He’s young, energetic and he hasn’t lost so he’s confident.”
Talent-wise, Shahbazyan might have all the potential in the world but he doesn’t have the experience or battle-tested record as some of Brunson’s past opponents.
That said, Brunson knows that often times more is gained by beating a bigger name than a better established opponent and that’s what he’s seeking with this fight on Saturday night.
“If a guy has a lot of buzz, just like when [Darren] Till came to middleweight,” Brunson explained. “He didn’t fight a single fight but he had a lot of buzz around him so that fight will do a lot in terms of what you’re trying to do going forward. That’s kind of how I look at this matchup.”