When you see an 8-0, 21-year-old fighter with seven first-round finishes, it’s easy to get excited. Glendale’s middleweight prospect Edmen Shahbazyan is now 2-0 under the UFC umbrella. His age and penchant for finding quick stoppages are intriguing to fans. But it’s reasonable to suspect that Shahbazyan’s connection to the infamous Edmond Tarverdyan and Ronda Rousey are the real driving force behind an early promotional push. He is trained by Tarverdyan and managed by both.
So, is he all hype? In our first prospect evaluation piece, we’ll look to assess the strengths and weaknesses shown in Edmen Shahbazyan’s in-cage performances.
He fights Charles Byrd at UFC 235.
Evaluating Edmen Shahbazyan
Shahbazyan’s first six opponents were 3-2, 0-0, 0-1, 0-0, 1-4 and 17-38 when he fought them. Looking at those clips, there isn’t anything of value to take from those fights. It was one-way traffic. For this evaluation, we’ll be focusing on his Tuesday Night Contender Series fight with Antonio Jones (7-1 at the time) and his UFC debut against Darren Stewart.
Feel free to watch those previous bouts for yourself, Twitter legend Mr. Honky has uploaded about five of them. Most were posted on February 26th.
Shahbazyan’s background is allegedly in Shotokan karate. On its face that means nothing, but you might correlate that with his ability to cover distance fairly well and explosively. He’ll throw up a kick now and then, occasionally to the head, on either side, but it doesn’t look like Shahbazyan has any sort of cohesive kicking game. An in-and-out boxing approach is usually what we see.
That style works fantastically behind a decent jab. Georges St-Pierre made a living off a springing jab and quick exits, along with the rest of his game of course.
Shahbazyan isn’t so dissimilar to GSP in his approach, his overall motion on the feet and athletic ability have led to powerful double leg entries. At this stage he is much more like Gunnar Nelson on the feet than GSP.
A nice wrinkle is that he level changes a bit on his way in when he jabs. Because of this, entries to the clinch or takedowns are disguised somewhat.
Notice we highlight the “entries” of Shahbazyan’s takedowns more than the finishes. He turns the corner well, but a more educated wrestler would give him fits as it stands.
Physicality: Boxing and the Clinch
One of Shahbazyan’s greatest strengths is, well, his strength. He’s a 6’2 middleweight with a big frame, he’s still filling out. He looked enormous next to former light heavyweight Darren Stewart. He can be light on his feet at times and has really impressed me with his ability to quickly level change and convert on takedowns.
Given his many first-round finishes, Shahbazyan clearly has a ton of power in his hands.
His punching form is fair, and he maintains that form in a flurry and even when delivering ground and pound. The Jones finish isn’t the best demonstration of his ground and pound, but the point stands.
Those are qualities that have likely come from hundreds to thousands of rounds of pad work, a favorite training method of Edmond Tarverdyan.
A standout detail in Shahbazyan’s striking is his clinchwork in transition. Against Antonio Jones, he did well job framing off the arms and punching off the breaks. He seemed fluid in moving in and out of tie-ups while punching.
The clinch is a huge weapon for Shahbazyan moving forward.
There are a few things to enjoy about Shahbazyan’s offensive approach.
He does use a jab. There are problems with it that we’ll get to shortly, but he’s consistent and sticks with it.
The jab is a great setup for transitioning between striking and grappling. That is especially true because Shahbazyan can be a bit of a lunging puncher at times, so the entries on his takedowns are not obviously distinguished from his punches. An opponent can be fooled into loading up a counter before Shahbazyan disappears for the double.
Shahbazyan has decent hips and awareness on the ground, but it doesn’t look like he has any clear focus in maintaining top control. Against the cage he holds position well, which makes sense considering his strength in the clinch.
I was happy to see his emphasis on controlling wrists, especially the cross-wrist ride from the back and on the cage against Darren Stewart. That’s fairly basic wrestling, but an important component of ground and pound and a decent MMA top game.
Shahbazyan does look for single leg finishes on his shots, but I’m not convinced they’re any good, as Stewart’s takedown defense appeared to be shallow. The double is certainly the best part of Shahbazyan’s skill-based game.
The last, and perhaps most important strength of Edmen Shahbazyan, is his chin. On top of that, he appears to be tough as hell. How did we learn that? Read on.
In his fight with Antonio Jones, it was hard to find a punch Shahbazyan didn’t want to get hit with.
While Shahbazyan does throw a decent jab, he often does so with his head stuck in place and with his rear hand down, making him a sucker for a check hook.
It’s likely a symptom of Tarverdyan’s training methods, his fighters treat head movement as a separate component from punching. It’s an evasive maneuver for them, not a way to function generally. On the pads, they’ll throw combinations in place, then slip or roll, then continue to throw in place. It’s a lot to ask of someone to move their head just when they see a strike coming, and much more reliant on reflexes.
Defensive holes are the most common factor between young prospects. When you have an aggressive fighter who likes to swarm like Shahbazyan, it’s to be expected that he’ll take a few on the way in.
It’s worth noting that Shahbazyan played outfighter against Darren Stewart, and his defense was no better in that mode.
The in-and-out karate style is classically ruined near the cage. How many karate-based fighters have we seen run backward into the cage, and either freeze or circle off with their hands down and get nailed? Most of them?
Shahbazyan is no exception to this trend.
Another particularly worrying weakness in Shahbazyan is his conditioning. He enforced a wrestling-heavy game against Stewart, and it came back to bite him.
It was a smart idea, considering Stewart is one of the most powerful middleweight strikers in the UFC and he hit Shahbazyan with everything when they were on their feet.
It’s tiring trying to outfight, especially when you’re green at it and expend far too much energy in doing so. It’s not fair to call Shahbazyan a fighter who will persistently gas, because he’s 21 and he pursued an exhausting fight. But he did that to himself, and you wonder if that’s a foreseeable trend. Is Shahbazyan pushing a pace he can’t maintain? If so, he’s breaking analyst Schwan Humes‘ golden rule.
As eluded to earlier, Shahbazyan’s fantastic chin saved him in this fight. Look at the punishment he took.
Edmen Shahbazyan’s problems are very normal for a young prospect.
Should we have faith in his growth given his training situation? How many Tarverdyan fighters have we seen improve in the areas Shahbazyan is lacking? By my estimation, none.
His UFC 235 opponent Charles Byrd is essentially a finished product. He’s in his mid-thirties, has a decently fundamental boxing game, power, strong wrestling entries, and a comprehensive and effective ground game. He’s not perfect, and he did show some vulnerability in being finished by Darren Stewart after largely working the Englishman.
Shahbazyan struggled immensely, especially late, against a fighter in Darren Stewart that he was able to reliably takedown. What is going to happen against a well-rounded fighter that can push him on the feet like Byrd?
Maybe Shahbazyan smokes him in round one. But you should have serious doubts about Edmen Shahbazyan’s future as a prospect if he shows no progress in the areas we’ve identified.
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