Brunson stops Shahbazyan by third round TKO

The only way to the top of UFC’s middleweight division is through Derek Brunson. On Saturday, he slammed that door shut for a red-hot prospect.

Brunson stopped Edmen Shahbazyan via TKO 26 seconds into the third round in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

The previously unbeaten Shahbazyan had all the hype coming in as the former training partner of UFC legend Ronda Rousey. But Brunson nearly finished him at the end of the second round and then did so early in the third.

The card took place with no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility owned by the promotion right across from its corporate campus. It was the first event in the United States after a month-long run in July on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which was dubbed Fight Island.

Brunson said in his post-fight interview that he was disappointed he was a heavy underdog. He said he is 3-0 since going to train under coach Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA — and recalled advice Hooft gave him when he first got to the South Florida gym.

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Brunson was a +290 underdog coming in.

This was the largest upset in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping (+400) knocked out Luke Rockhold to collect the UFC middleweight title at UFC 199 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

When the third round started, Brunson started his onslaught again. He came forward with a big left hand, took Shahbazyan down and landed more ground-and-pound. This time, Dean had a quick hook and called it off, awarding Brunson a TKO.

Brunson said his instant thoughts were going home to see his family after being apart for the past four weeks while training. He said he will start thinking about his next opponent with his coaches within a week.

Brunson (21-7) is considered one of the strongest outs in the middleweight division. The North Carolina native is on a three-fight winning streak. Brunson, 36, has lost only to current or former champions since 2016: Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

Brunson is now tied with three others for the third-most finishes in UFC middleweight history with eight. UFC president Dana White stated he was impressed with Brunson’s performance.

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