Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight talents Edmen Shahbazyan and Anthony Hernandez will collide this weekend (Sat., May 20, 2023) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
When Shahbazyan knocked out Brad Tavares with a first round high kick to advance to 11-0, the young boxer looked like a sure-fire future champion. Then, Derek Brunson exposed some holes in his game, leading to a three-fight losing streak. Fortunately, he’s now back in the win column, and it’s still far too early to count out the 25-year-old. Conversely, Hernandez’s UFC career didn’t start the best, losing two of three fights. His current three-fight win streak, however, has shown huge potential from “Fluffy,” whose game has come together beautifully. He’s really battered his last three opponents, and this is his moment to break into the rankings.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Brad Tavares (UFC 244), Darren Stewart (TUF 28 Finale), Dalcha Lungiambula (UFC 282), Jack Marshmann (UFC 239)
Key Losses: Derek Brunson (UFC Vegas 5), Jack Hermansson (UFC Vegas 27), Nassourdine Imavov (UFC 268)
Keys to Victory: Shahbazyan is a sharp kickboxer. He’s got a fast jab and uses it to build powerful combinations, and “Golden Boy” has a definite knack for timing his foe with big connections. His defensive wrestling and conditioning are the flaws that have been revealed more recently, but he’s definitely working on shoring up those issues.
They’re certainly going to be tested here.
Hernandez is a damn good grinder, a fighter who certainly has the skills to execute the gameplan Brunson and Hermansson implemented. Unless Shahbazyan’s takedown defense has grown massively, he’s probably going to get taken down at some point or another. The key then is to manage his energy and work back up efficiently, which will give him more opportunities to land.
Really, it feels like Shahbazyan has to hurt Hernandez to win this fight. To that end, both of Hernandez’s UFC stoppages were the direct results of hard body shots, so perhaps that’s an avenue for Shahbazyan to keep his foe off him and do some damage.
Record: 10-2 (1)
Key Wins: Rodolfo Vieira (UFC 258), Brendan Allen (LFA 32), Jun Yong Park (UFC Fight Night 157), Marc-Andre Barriault (UFC Vegas 60)
Key Losses: Kevin Holland (UFC on ESPN 8), Markus Perez (UFC Fight Night 144)
Keys to Victory: Hernandez’s last performance against Barriault was such a great demonstration of his growth and rounded mixed martial arts (MMA) game. He’s developed into a seamless pressure fighter, able to box at distance, strike dirty in the clinch, and wrestle nonstop for as long as the fight goes.
He’s named Cain Velasquez as an inspiration … and it shows.
Hernandez’s go-to approach to fighting happens to be Shahbazyan’s weakness. He drowns opponents with pressure and takedowns, which is the most proven way to make Shahbazyan look ineffective. As such, there’s no real need to change anything up!
In short, it’s a matter of execution for “Fluffy.” Shahbazyan is still a very dangerous striker early on, and pressure fighting is inherently risky. Hernandez has to be on point with his head movement, feints, and overall timing from the first bell, otherwise he could get clipped.
Provided he starts well, however, the fight is likely to grow easier over time for Hernandez.
Both men are just outside the Top 15 and looking to break in.
In Shahbazyan’s case, he’s looking to break back into the rankings. His early momentum has been entirely erased by his losing streak, but really, that’s okay. He’s young enough that those defeats can be used as learning lessons, and now that he’s at an excellent camp in Las Vegas, he may be able to really turn a corner. Defeating Hernandez would certainly be a big statement that he’s better prepared for wrestlers, which could change his second run at Middleweight elite.
Hernandez, meanwhile, has real momentum to anyone that’s been paying attention. “Fluffy” has been dominating his opposition, and if that continues against Shahbazyan, it’s time for a big step up in competition if not a number by his name outright.
At UFC Vegas 73, Edmen Shahbazyan and Anthony Hernandez will go to war in the co-main event. Which man will earn the victory?
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This story originally appeared on MMA Mania