Ronda Rousey stated it isn’t a matter of whether or not Edmen Shahbazyan will grow to be a UFC champ — it is only a matter of when. However that hype prepare has a legit roadblock on Saturday evening within the individual of Derek Brunson.
The primary occasion of the primary Battle Night time again in Las Vegas encompasses a rising star in Shahbazyan — who’s undefeated in 11 MMA fights, together with 4-Zero within the UFC — dealing with his hardest opponent. Brunson is 11-5 within the UFC, however 4 of these losses have been to opponents who’ve held or fought for the belt.
The cardboard additionally options Joanne Calderwood, who did not need to watch for her proposed title shot towards Valentina Shevchenko (she is recovering from leg surgical procedure). Did Calderwood make a mistake in selecting to combat Jennifer Maia within the meantime?
And what about Cody Garbrandt flirting with the concept of dropping to flyweight to problem new champ Deiveson Figueiredo? UFC president Dana White instructed ESPN on Monday that something is feasible with reference to that situation. Is that the best transfer for a rejuvenated division with a number of high quality contenders?
ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Phil Murphy, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim weigh in on these matters and extra.
How massive of a problem is Derek Brunson for Edmen Shahbazyan, and what would a win imply for the prospect?
Helwani: Shahbazyan is an ideal 4-Zero within the UFC. His most up-to-date win was towards Brad Tavares, so I believe Brunson is a superb pure subsequent step for him. I believe they received it proper with this reserving. Brunson is a grizzled veteran who has been on this spot earlier than. The UFC set him up towards rising stars Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya up to now, and, effectively, each these fights resulted in him getting knocked out within the first spherical, so it is a likelihood for him to proper these wrongs. However make no mistake about it: Regardless of being on a two-fight profitable streak, this isn’t a Brunson showcase combat. That is all concerning the undefeated Shahbazyan. A win right here might get him within the dialog with the likes of Darren Until. This can be a huge alternative for the 22-year-old phenom.
Murphy: There are, as they are saying, ranges to this. For 22-year-old middleweight prospect Shahbazyan, he moved up a stage to face sturdy UFC veteran Brad Tavares at UFC 244. Shahbazyan knocked out Tavares inside half of a spherical. Brunson represents yet one more stage up for “The Golden Boy,” and the bump to Saturday’s predominant occasion represents a further layer of promotional stress. Will probably be Brunson’s fourth UFC predominant occasion; it is Shahbazyan’s first. A win would vault Shahbazyan from prospect to contender. We have debated middleweight matchmaking in latest editions of “5 Rounds,” with the identical half-dozen names blended and matched. If Shahbazyan beats Brunson — particularly if it is a fourth consecutive first-round end — one other identify wants to hitch that elite checklist at 185 kilos.
Raimondi: Have a look at the names Brunson has misplaced to within the UFC: Israel Adesanya, Jacare Souza, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero. Three UFC champions, one Strikeforce champion and the No. 2 man within the division for years in Romero. In different phrases, for those who beat Brunson, you aren’t simply an elite fighter at 185 kilos, you are a doable future champion. So, a Shahbazyan win can be huge. It could throw the teen proper into the fireplace as a middleweight title contender. Brunson presents a really powerful problem. He has excellent wrestling, one-punch knockout energy and the sort of explosiveness and unpredictability that Shahbazyan has not seen but.
Wagenheim: Good job, UFC matchmakers. That is the best problem on the proper time for Shahbazyan. Brunson is severe enterprise, and this isn’t the primary time we have seen him standing smack-dab in the course of somebody’s path to the highest. Robert Whittaker beat him in 2016, then fought for an interim championship two fights later. Similar for Israel Adesanya, whose 2018 win over Brunson propelled him alongside the highway to the title. Brunson has solely two different losses up to now 6½ years, each towards fighters who’ve additionally worn championship belts: Anderson Silva and Jacare Souza. This combat will likely be a real measuring stick for Shahbazyan. Do not be shocked if it turns right into a Brunson showcase.
Did Joanne Calderwood make a mistake taking this combat as an alternative of ready for her title shot?
Helwani: On paper, I perceive why some are shocked she determined to combat moderately than watch for a title shot, however in actuality, we should not be. Calderwood hasn’t fought in 11 months. She’s been wholesome this entire time. Valentina Shevchenko will now solely be prepared in November. Calderwood cannot sit round and never receives a commission for over a yr, particularly whereas wholesome. So, it is a powerful spot for Calderwood, and I really feel for her as a result of you recognize she did not need to must roll the cube right here, however I finally suppose she made the best name. Gotta keep energetic and receives a commission. That is what the prizefighting recreation is all about. Here is hoping, if she wins, she retains her spot because the No.1 contender.
Joanne Calderwood lands a speedy proper elbow to the top of Andrea Lee within the first spherical of their featured prelim bout at UFC 242. For extra UFC, enroll right here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Murphy: I like Calderwood’s transfer to face Jennifer Maia for 2 causes. First, till that bout settlement towards champion Valentina Shevchenko is signed, we are able to solely be so positive it stays Calderwood’s. When the unique reserving was introduced, Shevchenko opened a 12-1 favourite — extra lopsided than Khamzat Chimaev over Rhys McKee final weekend. Shevchenko-Calderwood is a title pairing with out buzz, a perceived squash match missing backstory. If Cynthia Calvillo, say, beats somebody convincingly within the interim, few would complain if Calvillo jumped JoJo within the queue. Secondly, combating remains to be Calderwood’s livelihood. “Dr. Kneevil” is approaching 14 months with only one look, a split-decision win at UFC 242. Anybody paid by the day is aware of that extra usages is sweet enterprise. This weekend represents one other payday, one other likelihood to pad the résumé and one other alternative to sharpen expertise earlier than dealing with a pound-for-pound nice. That each one justifies Calderwood taking this combat towards Maia, even on brief discover.
Raimondi: Ready for the title shot has its personal dangers. What for those who’re ready round and inactive whereas others within the division are choosing up thrilling wins and transferring forward within the pecking order? Not saying that is taking place proper now at ladies’s flyweight, however somebody like Gilbert Burns can go on a wild run and grow to be high contender in just some months. If Valentina Shevchenko is not due again till later within the yr, it is a threat price taking for Calderwood. You do not need to be coming off a layoff of multiple yr to combat somebody as expert as Shevchenko. And extra importantly, Calderwood has not gotten a combat purse since final September. That is a very long time to go with out earnings. She has already been ready a very long time.
Wagenheim: If Calderwood has decided that ready a number of extra months for her shot at Valentina Shevchenko would compromise her sharpness as a fighter and, extra necessary, her monetary solvency, who am I to query that? A girl has to eat, and haggis, black pudding and different Scottish delicacies do not come without cost. She is aware of she’s taking a threat — simply ask Frankie Edgar, who had a title combat lined up till he ran right into a Brian Ortega uppercut. However there is a motive the emphasis goes on the primary syllable of the phrase “prizefighter.”
Which fighter outdoors of the primary occasions are you most excited to see?
Niko Worth seems to be to pour it on Vicente Luque, however he will get dropped with a vicious proper hand in spherical 2.
Helwani: Timur Valiev. If you do not know, Valiev has been a mainstay of the Mark Henry/Ricardo Almeida crew for years, but for some motive he by no means received a shot within the UFC. His 14-2 report definitely suggests he ought to have had one a very long time in the past. Properly, he lastly received the decision very not too long ago, and he is about to make his long-awaited UFC debut this weekend on brief discover towards Jamall Emmers. Should you discuss to any member of that crew — from Frankie Edgar to Zabit Magomedsharipov to Eddie Alvarez — they are going to all let you know how a lot they like Valiev and the way a lot he deserves this shot. I am trying ahead to seeing what he does with it.
Murphy: Timur Valiev may very well be the most recent chapter of Dagestan’s UFC takeover, and his promotional debut feels overdue. He has spent latest years coaching at Jackson-Wink MMA, so he isn’t fully underneath the radar. Valiev carried out effectively on the WSOF-PFL scene, splitting a pair of fights towards Chris Gutierrez, a heavy favourite himself in Saturday’s curtain-raiser. Valiev’s solely two appearances up to now two years have been wins in his native Dagestan, together with a four-minute demolition of “TUF: Brazil” veteran Giovanni da Silva final July. His opponent Saturday, Jamall Emmers, accounted for himself fairly properly in a split-decision loss to Giga Chikadze at UFC 248. Nonetheless, Valiev sits at nearly a 2-1 favourite. As anticipated, his grappling is greater than sound, however time at Jackson-Wink has additionally sharpened Valiev’s kickboxing. I’m excited to see the way it all interprets to the Octagon, particularly towards an opponent who we all know belongs at this stage.
Raimondi: I’m at all times excited to see Vicente Luque. He is nonetheless unknown to most informal followers, however he is one of the crucial entertaining fighters within the sport. Luque is an all-action sort of man. He has three Battle of the Night time bonuses in his previous 5 fights. This bout towards Randy Brown must be one other banger. In 11 UFC victories, Luque has 10 finishes. The person goes on the market to cease fights each single time. If he beats Brown, it is time for an additional step up in competitors.
Wagenheim: Name me narrow-minded, but it surely’s at all times concerning the gold for me. At all times. So although I am intrigued to see how Shabazyan fares in his first massive check, the combat I am most trying ahead to on Saturday is the co-main occasion, that includes the night’s solely top-10 fighters. Since we have been requested to quote only one fighter right here, it is received to be Calderwood, No. Four within the ESPN ladies’s flyweight rankings. She was already penciled in for a date with the champ, and a win on Saturday would solidify that. However this combat additionally represents a possibility for the ninth-ranked Maia, who will likely be seeking to bounce again from final November’s loss to No. 3-ranked Katlyn Chookagian and safe her spot amongst ranked 125-pounders. The stakes are excessive and clearly laid out for each ladies.
Deiveson Figueiredo seemed nice on Battle Island; what would you consider Cody Garbrandt probably transferring down in weight to problem for the title?
Cody Garbrandt shakes up Raphael Assuncao with a jab to the face within the first spherical.
Helwani: I do not prefer it. First off, Garbrandt has by no means made 125. Keep in mind what occurred the final time a bantamweight received a flyweight title shot with out ever making 125 earlier than? (TJ Dillashaw was knocked out by Henry Cejudo in 32 seconds in January 2019 and later examined constructive for the banned substance EPO.) Second of all, after “saving” the division, this looks like a slap within the face to all those that helped to maintain the division alive not too long ago. , the precise flyweights. What occurs if Garbrandt wins? I am going to let you know what occurs. He’ll return as much as 135 and attempt to grow to be a double champ. Now, let me be clear: Garbrandt is an amazing fighter. He seemed wonderful in June. But when he actually desires to be a flyweight champion, I would moderately he face somebody in a non-title combat first, make the load after which let’s have a look at what’s what. If he have been a champion, this could be completely different. However he is not. And sure, I do know this combat would draw greater than another combat they might do for that belt proper now. Nonetheless, it is too dangerous. For now, let’s have a look at Figuereido versus Brandon Moreno.
Murphy: It looks like we have been by way of this earlier than with TJ Dillashaw. As a result of a longtime bantamweight could make the flyweight restrict doesn’t essentially imply he ought to. Garbrandt seemed implausible at UFC 250, snapping a three-fight dropping streak — and almost snapping Raphael Assunção’s jaw together with it. The buzzer-beating proper hook thrown from Garbrandt’s hip appeared a end extra suited to Mortal Kombat than MMA. Main as much as that, you might see the fingerprints of hanging coach Mark Henry’s time with Garbrandt, harnessed aggression that despatched the previous champ rushing again up the bantamweight ladder. Garbrandt might feasibly stand one win from a title shot. I do not know if it is impatience or ambition driving the flyweight flirtation. Personally, I would like to see Garbrandt add to the rising depth at bantamweight. There are too many compelling matchups there to get antsy.
Raimondi: That seemingly can be an unbelievable combat. Actually, I would not hate it. There are some questions that also must be answered among the many flyweight contenders, although I believe Brandon Moreno, Alex Perez and Askar Askarov all have a case to be made. Garbrandt is the most important identify out of all of them as a former bantamweight champion and somebody the UFC pegged way back as a future star. Getting the much-maligned 125-pound division much more shine would not be the worst concept on the planet and, in an ideal world, would seemingly solely breed alternatives for different contenders sooner or later.
Wagenheim: Figueiredo deserves a high-profile combat, and Garbrandt certainly would carry that. However I am leery of fighters transferring down from their pure weight class, one the place they weren’t undersized. It is comprehensible why “No Love” would seize the chance, although, and it’s very his name. My bigger objection right here can be with the UFC’s decision-making. I am not a fan of skipping a queue of legit title challengers (Brandon Moreno, Alex Perez, Askar Askarov) in favor of a man who has one win since 2016. I do know, I do know, the UFC granted title pictures to Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz, who had even worse latest resumes. So this reserving definitely is possible, and if it does occur, I am going to eagerly watch as a result of it is going to be a firefight. However I simply do not suppose it will be the best combat.
Exterior of Stipe vs. D.C., what August combat are you trying ahead to probably the most?
After almost two years out of the Octagon, Sean O’Malley made an announcement at UFC 248 and could also be getting ready to UFC stardom.
Helwani: I’ll go together with Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera. Anytime the “Suga Present” is on show, it is must-see TV, and contemplating how good he has seemed in his first two wins this yr, I am excited to see what he has in retailer for his third act. Additionally, these two don’t love one another in any respect, and I believe Vera represents O’Malley’s hardest opponent up to now. It is a massive combat for Vera, too, as he was robbed of a choice in Could versus Track Yadong. That “loss” snapped a five-fight profitable streak for Vera. Oh, additionally, so as to add to the feud, O’Malley not too long ago died his hair the colours of the Colombian flag, which is the place Vera is from.
Murphy: It is not confirmed, I do know. There’s little incentive to publicize accomplished non-pay-per-view playing cards with out reside gates to contemplate. Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez have been linked to an Aug. 29 date, and that is my decide, each underneath that assumption and with that caveat. Zabit-Yair would have all of it: divisional consequence, entertaining kinds and loads of drama. The winner would have each motive to face Alex Volkanovski subsequent for the featherweight belt. Zabit is 6-Zero within the UFC with three finishes; Rodriguez is 8-1 (1 NC) in 10 UFC appearances, together with a Knockout of the 12 months candidate towards fellow contender Chan Sung Jung. A win over the opposite completes a challenger’s case, interval. It additionally caps a saga courting again two years. In Could 2018, the UFC terminated Rodriguez’s contract for reportedly refusing to face Zabit. That was rescinded as the 2 agreed to combat at UFC 228, an occasion from which Rodriguez withdrew by damage. Lastly — reportedly — they are going to meet on the finish of the month, and it must be implausible.
Raimondi: Two others stand out to me as a result of they each contain prospects who’re about to make a giant bounce to the subsequent stage. And may very well be there earlier than the top of the yr. One is Brunson vs. Shahbazyan, in fact. The opposite is Sean O’Malley taking over Marlon “Chito” Vera at UFC 252. O’Malley is probably probably the most intriguing blue-chipper within the UFC this aspect of Khamzat Chimaev. Vera can be the hardest combat of his profession up to now. If he will get that accomplished, O’Malley enters a mixture at high of bantamweight with nothing however killers: champion Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, Marlon Moraes, Cory Sandhagen, Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar and Pedro Munhoz. The checklist goes on and on. Thrilling occasions at 135 kilos.
Wagenheim: Properly, I am already on report as itemizing Frankie Edgar vs. Pedro Munhoz (rescheduled from July 15 to Aug. 22) amongst my 5 most anticipated fights of the summer time, however that was earlier than the UFC booked Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera for the Miocic-Cormier undercard. Just like this weekend’s Edmen Shahbazyan combat, O’Malley will likely be dealing with his greatest check but. True, Vera is coming off a loss, and he is not precisely on the verge of the bantamweight high 10, however with O’Malley coming off two straight two-minute knockouts, that is the kind of combat that may shift the 25-year-old’s momentum into a better gear.