Middleweight contender Derek Brunson beat Edmen Shahbazyan via third-round TKO in the UFC Fight Night main event Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Here are four takeaways from the
Brunson's win serves as a reminder
Shahbazyan, a protege of former UFC titleholder Ronda Rousey and someone many believe is a future champion, was the focus ahead of this fight. This was being dubbed as the toughest test of his career, and a win over Brunson would've taken him from prospect to contender.
Brunson was arguably being disrespected. He had four times the amount of UFC experience than the 22-year-old heading in, yet he was nearly a 3-1 underdog against the previously undefeated fighter. Brunson silenced the doubters and reminded everyone that he's still a contender with a late finish.
Brunson is an elite gatekeeper in the middleweight division - and I mean that in the nicest way possible. He's essentially only lost to the best of the best, from current champ Israel Adesanya to former titleholders Robert Whittaker and Anderson Silva, as well as longtime contender Yoel Romero. Brunson's had his way with everyone else.
This was ultimately a litmus test for Shahbazyan. If you beat Brunson, you're ready to face the best. But on Saturday, Brunson set Shahbazyan back in an incredible performance and proved he's still one of the better middleweights on the planet. Maybe Brunson - who seems to be getting better even at 36 years old - will finally get respected as such.
Calderwood took a chance, came up short
Joanne Calderwood's first-round submission loss to Jennifer Maia in the co-main event was avoidable.
Calderwood didn't have to take this fight. She was scheduled to challenge Valentina Shevchenko for the women's flyweight belt earlier in 2020, but the champion withdrew from the bout due to an injury. Instead of waiting for Shevchenko, who recently pushed back the timetable for her return to the end of the year, Calderwood opted to step up on short notice against Maia.
Ultimately, the Scotland native took a big risk and paid the price. This could've worked out well for her. If Calderwood had won, we would've been praising her for taking a risk and coming out victorious. She also would've had more momentum heading into her title fight against Shevchenko. But anything can happen in MMA, and Maia proved she was a live underdog. Now, Calderwood is in a much worse spot than if she had just sat out a while longer.
You can't help but feel bad for Calderwood. She would've had her work cut out for her against Shevchenko, but she would've at least made more money than usual. Now, it's not a guarantee she'll make it back to that opportunity - and even if she does, there's no way of knowing how long it'll take.
Don't count out Shahbazyan
Shahbazyan isn't quite ready to face the best, but that doesn't mean he won't be a future contender.
After all, he's still several years away from hitting his prime. He's been in the UFC for less than two years, and he's picked up some big wins - including a first-round stoppage of veteran Brad Tavares - during that time. Shahbazyan has shown flashes of brilliance, and the hype surrounding him was - and still is - deserved.
And let's be honest: Shahbazyan was competitive against Brunson - who's been in the top 10 for years - until late in the second round. He landed some hard shots in the first and continued to do well early in the second.
Brunson was the better man Saturday, but it would be foolish to count out Shahbazyan after only one setback this early into his career.
Something was in the air in Vegas
This was one of the strangest UFC events in recent memory.
Less than two hours before the card started, Gerald Meerschaert and Ed Herman's light heavyweight bout was canceled after Meerschaert tested positive for the coronavirus.
Then, at the start of the main card, the promotion announced on the broadcast that Trevin Giles fainted backstage while getting ready to walk out. His middleweight fight against Kevin Holland was also scrapped. Holland apparently found out the news while watching the broadcast just moments before he was set to walk to the cage.
ESPN's Ariel Helwani reported that Calderwood fainted while getting checked after her loss to Maia.
There were also at least eight groin shots during the event, which is the same amount of fights that took place Saturday. Additionally, three fighters fell off the card Friday for various reasons, and one bout was canceled altogether.
We still witnessed some great fights, like the Bobby Green versus Lando Vannata rematch, and some great performances, such as Vicente Luque's violent TKO of Randy Brown. But there's no doubt that something was in the air at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.