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Edmen Shahbazyan didn’t want unranked opponent after first loss: ‘I’m not here to just show up for a paycheck, I’m here to be the best’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Edmen Shahbazyan has always understood the fickle nature of the fight business.

After starting out his career with a perfect 11-0 record including four straight wins in the UFC, the now 23-year-old Contender Series veteran was touted as the future of the middleweight division division. Then he stumbled in his first main event as Shahbazyan suffered a third-round TKO loss to Derek Brunson this past October and suddenly he was an overhyped prospect who wasn’t ready for higher ranked competition.

Of course, Shahbazyan fully expected that reaction, which is why he’s rarely paid attention to anything said about him — good or bad.

“That’s the MMA fans and critics for you,” Shahbazyan told MMA Fighting. “One day you do good and they’re jumping all over your bandwagon and then you do bad one day and they just start talking. That’s the sport we’re in. That’s a lot of MMA fans and stuff like that. It is what it is. It doesn’t really matter to me.”

Never one to spent much time on social media, Shahbazyan didn’t have to get bombarded with negative comments but even if those flooded his timeline, chances are he wouldn’t have cared anyway.

“I took the loss and I know that I’m not going to use it as something bad,” Shahbazyan said. “I’m going to benefit from that loss. Just fix my errors, fix my mistakes, and just work hard to come back.

“I didn’t let anything get to me. There’s always going to be hate and there’s always going to be love. The people closest to me, that’s all that matters to me, my friends and family. They’re the biggest support to me. All the other people saying this and that, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Obviously, Shahbazyan went into the fight with Brunson expecting to earn another high profile win, which would have put him closer to his ultimate goal of becoming UFC champion.

Instead, he fell short but still learned a lot as Shahbazyan quickly identified what went wrong that night, which he knows will make him a better fighter in the end.

“I took that loss as a big time learning lesson,” Shahbazyan explained. “I did look back at the fight, watched it and broke some stuff down. All in all, I was kind of chasing a finish. I wanted to put him out with one shot and I kept going for a big shot, big shot, big shot, which kind of made gas out in the fight. He capitalized on the opportunity, stayed calm and composed and he did a good job. He ended up using that in his favor.

“I learned a lot from that fight. Just being a little more relaxed in there and not chasing a finish, knowing that if I don’t do that, I could go the full rounds no problem. My conditioning right now, I’ve been working a lot and grinding a lot. I know I can go the full distance. Just got to keep myself relaxed in there and not rush for a finish or chase for it. That’s pretty much it. It was cool to get in there with Brunson and a good learning lesson for me.”

Coming off that loss, Shahbazyan wasn’t certain what kind of fight the promotion would offer him next but he was ultimately handed a fight against Jack Hermansson at this weekend’s UFC Vegas 27 card.

In terms of rankings, Hermansson is only two spots behind Brunson in the top 10 and he’s earned several impressive wins over the past few years including a submission victory against former interim title challenger Kelvin Gastelum as well as a five-round decision against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

Despite Shahbazyan occupying a spot in those same rankings, there was a mixed reaction to the fight with Hermansson as if the UFC was feeding him the wolves after the first loss of his career.

He definitely saw it differently.

“I want to keep fighting the top guys, which is why a fight against a guy like Hermansson is a great fight,” Shahbazyan said. “He’s in the top of the division and I think there’s never any easy fights in the UFC. I don’t want to go the easy route. I want the good guys and to keep challenging myself. That’s the way to be the best. That’s to beat the best guys in the division and keep challenging yourself.

“I could have just picked an unranked guy to fight with but I want to stay at the top of the division and keep fighting the best guys. I’m not here to just show up for a paycheck. I’m here to be the best. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best guys in the division.”

While a win this weekend doesn’t erase what happened in the Brunson fight, Shahbazyan is confident he’ll put himself back on track as he continues to pursue his dreams of one day wrapping UFC gold around his waist.

“He’s highly ranked, I think this is a great fight to put me back there in my quest to be the best,” Shahbazyan said. “This is a great opportunity for me and he’s a good fighter. I’m ready to take it to him and come with a victory and keep climbing the rankings.”

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