31 Jul [MMA] 
Edmen Shahbazyan says UFC on ESPN+ 31 fight vs. Derek Brunson 'the right next step'

Edmen Shahbazyan’s walk at UFC on ESPN+ 31 will be a little bit different than usual.

Climbing from prelim placement to main card notoriety, Shahbazyan (11-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) makes the leap to UFC headliner when he takes on Derek Brunson in Saturday’s main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

“I’m blessed for this opportunity,” Shahbazyan told MMA Junkie at a virtual pre-fight media day Thursday. “I’m ready for Saturday night. It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid – and it’s here. Now it’s time to perform.

“… With the way that I’m going, I believe this is the right next step. Yeah, I’m going to just continue going and keep rising.”

Earlier in the day, MMA Junkie asked Brunson (20-7 MMA, 14-6 UFC) why his fight with Shahbazyan was not upped to five rounds when it replaced Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana as the main event. Brunson responded, saying the two parties had come to a mutual agreement it would be three rounds, given the short notice.

Shahbazyan begged to differ.

“I don’t think that’s accurate,” Shahbazyan said. “They offered us five (rounds). I was OK with five but I guess something happened with the other side. I was down for five.”

As for the opportunity to face a top 10 fighter, Shahbazyan voiced his excitement. A win over Brunson, a perennial UFC-ranked middleweight, will set him up for an even bigger matchup for his next outing.

“I know he’s a veteran,” Shahbazyan said. “I know he’s fought a lot of the guys in the division – a lot of top guys. If you look at rankings, he’s No. 8. I’m No. 9. It’s the perfect next matchup for me. I feel like I match up really well against him. He mixes up his wrestling and his wild strikes. He’s recently shown a little bit of patience. I’m happy to go in there and showcase my skills against him.”

UFC on ESPN+ 31 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card streams on ESPN+ after prelims on ESPN/ESPN+.