What the hell happened at UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Shahbazyan?!

Greetings, fight fans! UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Shahbazyan might have been the weirdest, most 2020 card we've had all year. From having a multitude of fighters and fights removed within days of the event to most likely setting a record for low blows in a single event, tonight was a wild ride. The original main event of Holly Holm vs Irene Aldana was scrapped after Aldana tested positive for COVID-19. Trevin Giles vs Kevin Holland was set to open up the main card, when Giles fainted on his way to walking out for the fight! Gerald Meerschaert tested positive for COVID-19 just prior to the card, Ray Borg's bad luck continued as he was removed the day before for undisclosed reasons, and we'll have to once again wait longer to see Timur Valiev's UFC debut as he was also removed two days out. It was an emotional roller coaster all involved I'm sure, but ultimately I felt the resulting eight-fight card was refreshingly brief (or at least it would've been without the typical UFC program pacing), and the action we got was pretty solid. So let's talk about it; here's what the hell happened at UFC Fight Night" Brunson vs Shahbazyan!


The Main Card

Brunson uses patient gameplan to halt Shahbazyan hype train

#8 Derek Brunson def. #9 Edmen Shahbazyan by TKO via strikes (0:26, R3)

What happened?: Brunson weathered the early storm, used his wrestling to wear down Shahbazyan, and brutalized the Armenian-American en route to a merciful stoppage.

How did that happen?: Long story short: Brunson went Super Saiyan, and that sealed Shahbazyan's fate. We all saw the hair! In seriousness, it was all just smart, patient fighting on behalf of Brunson. He stayed conservative for the most part on the feet, careful not to fall into old habits and rush in with his chin in the air on an opponent ready to counter; and he used his draining clinch work and wrestling to slow down the fight and eventually sap Shahbazyan's energy. The young prospect did relatively well early; he mostly went tit-for-tat on the feet with Brunson, but was shown to clearly be the harder hitter, as his shots were definitely affecting Brunson more than the other way around. Brunson did manage a takedown in the round that Shahbazyan had to work a bit to get up from, and the power he threw behind all his strikes didn't help matters, as opposed to Brunson, who more often opted for slapping low kicks and jabs.

The second round started out well for Shahbazyan when he appeared to stun Brunson with a body kick, but the tide would change shortly after with Brunson turning up the pressure, and I think it was his striking in the clinch that really got the ball rolling. He'd rush into the clinch and land left hands and elbows, often chasing Shahbazyan down after they separated. When this visibly wore on Shahbazyan, Brunson grabbed a rear waist lock, tripped him to the ground, eventually making his way to mount, and Shahbazyan already looked exhausted and not very interested in offering a spirited resistance to the punishment coming his way. Brunson unleashed a brutal torrent of elbows and punches, and toward the end of the round cut Shahbazyan badly and even appeared to potentially flash knock him out just before the horn. Shahbazyan would get to his feet and make it to his corner, but it was pretty clear that he wasn't there physically or mentally when he came out for the final round. After a quick takedown and a few shots on the ground with no real resistance from Shahbazyan, the fight was mercifully stopped before he had to take more punishment. Although I've seen some saying they never should have let Shahbazyan come out for the third round, which you certainly could argue, it was a good call by referee Herb Dean to stop the fight as soon as it Shahbazyan easily found himself in the same peril he ended the previous round in. He read the situation pretty accurately there, which is a welcome occurrence after his controversial stoppage (and subsequent feud with Dan Hardy) last week in the Francisco Trinaldo vs Jai Herbert fight. Another very solid performance from Brunson, who proved that he's not content to be a stepping stone in the middleweight division.

Other thoughts: We've seen it many-a-time: this was a prospect loss. Shahbazyan racked up a few exciting wins, got the UFC behind him, received a major step up in competition, and with that we're left with the usual prospect loss conclusion: he's not there yet, but he's young and has time to improve. At just 22 years of age, Shahbazyan very arguably got too much, way too soon, and it answered some questions about his game. His cardio was always in question, and rightfully so, as he'd racked up three-straight first round finishes after going the distance in his UFC debut against Darren Stewart; a fight where he tired badly down the stretch and clearly lost the third round. That was mostly erased from people's minds when he ran through Charles Byrd, Jack Marshman, and Brad Tavares in a little over four minutes combined. Those wins taught us that he could be very dangerous early, but told us nothing about how he handles adversity. Brunson proved to provide some diversity that was just too much for him to overcome, and it definitely appeared to break him, so it'll be interesting to see how he rebounds from his first career loss coming on such a big stage and in such emphatic fashion. He should learn a lot from the loss, and it showed that he needs work in pretty much all phases of the game if he's going to compete at the top 10 level.

As for Brunson, again, he looked good, and has been looking better since switching camps to Sanford MMA (formerly Hard Knocks 365) in Florida. I expect his striking to look better under coach Henri Hooft, and while it still looks pretty lacking when he chooses to be the aggressor (he still throws defense out the window), he's much more particular with when he chooses to blitz, often waiting until Shahbazyan was already in a defensive posture separating from the clinch or moved away, rather than just blitzing at him cold with no set up and staying in the pocket too long. Otherwise, he kept it pretty conservative from distance, and was content to throw less committal strikes and let Shahbazyan come to him. I think there will probably always be a ceiling for Brunson, but this is a good look for him in climbing the middleweight ladder.

Next for Brunson: Honestly there isn't a wealth of choices out there from him. While I think Jack Hermansson should probably fight the winner of the upcoming Yoel Romero vs Uriah Hall fight, either one of those could also fight Brunson, the latter of which would be a potentially interesting rematch no matter who takes it.

Next for Shahbazyan: He's ranked ninth in the division, and honestly I don't he's earned that ranking, so he should take a bit of tumble down the standings in his next match up. The only problem with that is that the last fighter he beat in Tavares is somehow ranked 12th. Perhaps he could fight the loser of Chris Weidman vs Omari Akhmedov.

Maia armbar dashes Jojo's title hopes

#6 Jennifer Maia def. #3 Joanne Calderwood by submission via arm bar (4:29, R1)

What happened?: Maia essentially outworked Calderwood on the feet, prompting Calderwood to secure an opportunistic takedown. That takedown proved to be her undoing, as Maia swung her hips for an armbar that found its mark.

How did that happen?: Maia opened up right away tagging Calderwood from boxing range, which is historically her weakest range to work from. Calderwood likes to either be all the way outside throwing kicks, or all the way inside clinching up and landing knees and elbows. Calderwood would eventually settle and do a bit better keeping the distance with front kicks to the body, but Maia just didn't have a ton of trouble getting in range and finding her with punches. A glancing front kick to Calderwood's face ended up being caught, and Maia found herself tripped to the canvas in half guard. She was active from the moment she hit the ground, immediately trying to shrimp out and then working for an omoplata, possibly as a precursor to a triangle once she'd regain full guard. Once she did get to full guard, she immediately swung around for a quick armbar that Calderwood immediately tried defending by stacking Maia and kneeling on her face to make the position uncomfortable. While not a bad defensive move, in this instance Maia just rocked in the direction Calderwood was facing, and perhaps the knee on the face caused Calderwood to lose her balance and tip forward. She managed to catch herself with her free arm, but that angle was all Maia needed to roll to her back and straighten the arm out. Calderwood tried to fight it and roll herself backward to get her arm to the "hitchhiker position," but by then Maia had readjusted the lock, and tucked the arm under her armpit to really hypextend it and get the tap.

Other thoughts: This was a fantastic performance by Maia altogether, and unfortunately a familiar lackluster one from Calderwood. She is someone that people had pretty high hopes for even prior to her joining the UFC; many expected her to challenge for an Invicta belt, but before that could happen she was off to The Ultimate Fighter to take part in the season that would crown the inaugural strawweight champion. After a shocking submission loss to underdog and eventual finalist (and future champion) Rose Namajunas, her sheen had worn off a bit, even though her undefeated pro record was still intact. That would change two fights later when she would suffer another shocking submission loss to Maryna Moroz that set her back even further. This set a trend of Calderwood under-performing and losing fights that held any kind of stakes. After going 3-1 since moving up permantently to flyweight (and despite splitting her last two fights), she was finally granted a title shot against flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko, only for the champion to be forced out due to injury. Rather than wait she opted to take this fight, and well...shocking submission loss. Honestly, this is the fourth "shocking" submission loss we've seen from her, and they've always been in fights where she didn't look particularly good leading up to the finish either. It's probably time we stopped being surprised by them and realize that she's lost to almost every credible submission threat she's faced in the UFC. More than anything, this was another notch in the belt of those who believe not waiting for title shots is a mistake. Just ask Josh Grispi about that; and if you thought "Who?" then that's exactly my point. I would say that this may be Calderwood's last shot at fighting for a title, but in a division so hard-up for challengers, she might just be another good win away.

Next for Maia: Valentina Shevchenko. Calderwood had the title shot locked up, Maia beat her, so now Maia is the #1 contender. Simple.

Next for Calderwood: Her ranking probably won't fall too much, and I'd say Jessica Eye is a perfect next fight for her if she weren't taking on former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade next. Roxanne Modafferi might be a good fight for her, whether she wins or loses her rematch with Andrea Lee next month. Now that I think of it, the Eye match up may make sense either way too.

Luque fells Brown with perfectly-timed knee

#11 Vicente Luque def. Randy Brown by KO via knee strike (4:56, R2)

What happened?: Luque broke Brown down on the strength of a potent calf kicking game, before landing a barely-legal knee near the end of the second round that put him away.

How did that happen?: Luque is always going to be someone I'm nervous for against rangy strikers, because his whole game is generally to wade into the pocket and take what they give him to try and and land counters. This fight did a bit to assuage that feeling, as he smartly chopped away at Brown's legs with hard low kicks throughout the duration of the fight. These especially affected Brown since he tends to step heavy on his lead leg when closing the distance, and it didn't take long for Luque to time this and put a beating on his lead leg. Brown's tendency to drop his head into those entries also undid him in the fight; first in the opening round when he faked a level change to an uppercut, only to be dropped with a tight right hand.

If Tatsu from the original Ninja Turtles movie taught me anything, it's "Never lower your eyes to an enemy!"

The second time actually lead to the finish, when Brown ducked his head into the the clinch, which is not advisable considering how good Luque's front headlock game is. Luque managed to push him back to the fence in that position, and as Brown reached downward to touch the ground, Luque pulled his head upward to prevent that from happening and launched a knee right to Brown's temple that dropped him to his hands and knees, where he was pretty much already out, and the three more hard, uncontested right hands were totally unneeded.

Other thoughts: Although Luque's performance was pretty solid, he still did take a decent amount of shots and looked a bit beat up after the fight, and he's still one of the few fighters with a stellar UFC record that statistically gets hit more than he hits his opponents. He showed improvements in his ability to play a more measured game and break his opponent down at range, but he was still pretty willing to wade into range and take shots, relying on his durability and being the harder hitter. Stephen Thompson laid bare the improvements he still needs to make in his game before he's ready to take a spot in the top 10, and while he still showed some of those flaws here, he at least looked like he'd been working on them. As for Brown, I kinda feel for the guy because he looked very good in his past two fights and seemed to be gaining some momentum to break into the top 15. He may still get there, but this was a pretty rough setback for him.

Next for Luque: He failed his previous bid against a top 10 opponent, and I think it's time for a second chance, this time against someone a bit closer to his own ranking. Michael Chiesa still doesn't have a fight, and I think that'd be a good one. The winner of Geoff Neal vs Neil Magny could also work. Luque called out Nate Diaz, who is ranked a spot below him, after the fight, and while I don't think Nate would get up for that fight, I wouldn't mind watching it at all.

Next for Brown: Lyman Good or Nicolas Dalby, both recipients of recent losses, would be adequate match ups for him.

Green proves too sharp for Vannata in entertaining rematch of their 2017 draw

Bobby Green def. Lando Vannata by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)

What happened?: Green came better prepared for the rematch, working his quicker, more technical boxing game to his advantage from the onset and not falling prey to Vannata's more unorthodox attacks to get some closure on their previous meeting, which ended in a draw due to an illegal knee causing Vannata to be deducted a point.

How did that happen?: It was an entertaining, at times back-and-forth contest, but ultimately Green's boxing just proved too slick for Vannata, who too often found himself pushed out of the fight with hard shots just as he was getting into it. The opening round was pretty competitive and evenly matched, with both men often finding their right hands simultaneously and stunning each other.

These two went toe-to-toe for another Fight of the Night performance.

However, it was Green that landed the most significant shot of the round when he momentarily dropped Vannata with a big right hand. From then on the fight was mostly one-way traffic for Green. He'd gotten Vannata's timing down and just managed to beat him to the punch frequently, throw more volume, and be much more accurate. The final round was especially dominant, as Green landed hard knees to the body in the Thai clinch and then dropped Vannata on the break with a big right elbow. Green dove to the ground and landed several shots on the ground that had Vannata in trouble, but he was able to survive and get to his feet, though he wasn't able to capture much more success for the rest of the fight. Green was too sharp and too quick, and this time he took a clear-cut decision as a result.

Other thoughts: I can never fully trust either of these guys to do enough to win decisions, so I saw this fight as basically a toss up. I did pick Vannata to win, and that was due to a key mistake in assessing them compared to their previous fight. A big part of my reasoning for picking Vannata was that neither man had really changed since their first fight, and for all intents and purposes, Vannata won the first fight. Where I was incorrect was that Vannata has in fact changed since then; he's become much less dependent on unorthodox striking that consumes a lot of energy, and instead fights a bit more measured and "textbook" than in the past. He's still not a heavily process driven fighter, but he fights much less in that "flow state" than he used to, for better or for worse. In this case it was for worse, since that unorthodox style was really the only thing that gave Green issues since Green's style is heavily predicated on using head movement and counters that rely on his opponents being at least a little predictable in what they do. Outside of that, Green has always been the better boxer of the two, and that's mostly what kind of fight we got here: a boxing-heavy striking battle where the better technical striker pulled ahead and won out over time. Now with a paltry 3-5-2 record in the UFC, Vannata is definitely looking like a certified bust, considering the amount of hype he had coming into the UFC, and even after losing his debut to Tony Ferguson since he did so well dropping Ferguson early (a feat that didn't really age well considering how many fighters have managed to do well against Ferguson on the feet early). Vannata will continue to be fun to watch, but of the two it definitely looks like the veteran in Green has more upside.

Next for Green: It might be a bit too high a jump in the rankings, but I like him vs the winner of Beneil Dariush vs Scott Holtzman, or Drew Dober. Honestly, you could give Green just about anyone coming off a win in the top 15-30 too and it kinda makes sense.

Next for Vannata: What to do with Vannata? Perhaps Clay Guida, who Green previously beat? Someone like Magomed Mustafaev could also work.


The Prelims

Jonathan Martinez def. Frankie Saenz by KO via knee strike (0:57, R3)

The commentary made it a point to repeatedly mention Martinez's extra weight during this fight (he weighed in more than 4 lbs over the bantamweight limit), but honestly I'm not sure how much that had to do with his performance. After a relatively competitive first round that saw Saenz move on the outside, low kick, and mix in his wrestling, and Martinez land to the body and head liberally, the rest of the fight was wholesale domination from Martinez. He dropped Saenz twice in the second round, including a head kick and followup punches that really seemed to have Saenz dead-to-rights for a moment.

You could never accuse Saenz of not being tough.

He also hurt him to the body on more than one occasion. Saenz came out in the third desperately looking to close the distance and get a hold of Martinez, but at a beautiful knee up the middle for his troubles that dropped him against the cage, and more punches slumped him over further until the ref stepped in. Not a good look with the weight miss, but otherwise a great performance from Martinez.

Nate Maness def. Johnny Munoz by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)

It wasn't especially egregious I guess, but I didn't agree with this decision, and I'm a bit surprised all judges scored it exactly the same. The fight had a bizarre three low blows from Munoz, and he was finally deducted a point in the third round after the final illegal shot. You'd think that point deduction would have mattered, but apparently it didn't because all the judges gave Maness rounds two and three anyway. I found it difficult to see how Maness won the third, and he wasn't the most offensively potent through most of the fight, mostly defending takedowns (though he did stop all but two of sixteen attempts) while getting the worst of the striking and clinch exchanges. The fight could've easily been a draw or even a win for Munoz, but hey, this is the state of judging in MMA. We can no longer be surprised.

Meanwhile Munoz did things like this.

Jamall Emmers def. Vincent Cachero by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Emmers actually showed some likable skills against Giga Chikadze, so it was good to see him really be able to show them off against a lesser opponent in Cachero. Though he may be lesser, he made up for it in toughness though, as Cachero walked through some pretty big bombs and hung in there with Emmers down the stretch. As Emmers began to slow from the furious pace he set in the first couple rounds, he did well to rely on takedowns and a heavy top game. Cachero is no win to get excited about, but Emmers definitely showed some talent I'll be looking forward to seeing develop.

Chris Gutierrez fought Cody Durden to a unanimous draw (28-28, 28-28, 28-28)

To start of the weirdness of the card, we opened with a draw. Gutierrez essentially gave away the first round, spending almost the entire period with Durden on his back searching for a rear-naked choke, and nearly being face cranked at one point. This was enough for all the judges to grant Durden a 10-8, though you could argue no real damage was done to Durden. Still, under the new unified rules 10-8s are to be handed out more liberally, and Durden controlled nearly the entire round. The last two rounds were basically crystal clear wins for Gutierrez, who picked up where he left off in his last fight, beating up Durden's legs. He landed up top quite well too, but not enough to earn any 10-8s on the judges' scorecards. The most frustrating part for Gutierrez should be that he had Durden pretty tired hurt later in the fight, and basically let him off the hook. A bit more out of him and he might have gotten a finish, let alone the 10-8 he needed to get the victory. Gutierrez came out of the fight looking like the better fighter, but it was another clear case of someone who won the fight, but didn't win the contest.


And that does it for UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Shahbazyan! It was an odd one, and I hope none of its peculiarities are show up in future cards: I don't think we could handle a new low blow record. Next up, the UFC returns to the APEX in Las Vegas, where MMA social media champion Derrick Lewis will lock horns with the daddest man on the planet in Alexei Oleinik. Can Lewis avoid the ground and take it to the Russian? Can Oleinik figure out yet another position we didn't know you could submit people from? We'll find out in a week! Until then, sado out!

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