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Edmen Shahbazyan looking to pass Jon Jones' as youngest UFC champion after big UFC 244 win

Brian Pincus

As Edmen Shahbazyan made the walk to the Octagon in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd on Nov. 2 at UFC 244, he wasn’t nervous. Pre-fight jitters are expected when stepping into a cage to fight someone who’s there to knock you out, but Shahbazyan told Yahoo Sports it was like any other fight for him.

After his knockout victory of veteran Brad Tavares, the UFC’s undefeated prospect took to the streets of New York City on Saturday night. Despite being a little disappointed the UFC overlooked his win and didn’t give him the $50,000 performance bonus, he still celebrated with family and friends who flew from California to watch him fight.

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Notably, he doesn’t celebrate like most 21 year olds. “The Golden Boy” lives a clean life. He doesn’t drink any alcohol and follows a strict diet. He did indulge a bit in the days following the fight, trying many of the best pizza spots in the city, but the splurge won’t last for long. Shahbazyan hopes to get back to the gym as soon as possible and resume training.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02:  Edmen Shahbazyan of the United States celebrates victory against Brad Tavares of the United States during UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Edmen Shahbazyan celebrates victory against Brad Tavares during UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2, 2019 in New York City. (Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Shahbazyan: ‘I keep a small circle’

Shahbazyan’s coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, accompanied him to the Yahoo Sports office in New York for an interview on Monday. They have been training together since Shahbazyan first started at 10 years old. Even in the beginning, Tarverdyan said he noticed something special in Shahbazyan.

“He is very mature in the ring. Ever since he was 16, he was sparring with the best in the world,” said Tarverdyan. The Glendale Fighting Club trainer went on to add, “He has so much heart and never gives up.”

The coach has worked with many UFC fighters, including former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. He compared the 21-year-old’s work ethic and dedication to Rousey’s when she was champion.

Shahbazyan hoping to follow in Adesanya’s footsteps

For Shahbazyan, he says it’s “not tough to stay focused” when you have goals and dreams. And he has a big one in mind, becoming the youngest UFC champion. “[I have] a good year and eight months” to beat Jon Jones’ record, which he captured at 23 years and 8 months old. Shahbazyan turns 22 on Nov. 20 and is easily on pace to achieve his goal.

Current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who is also undefeated, beat Tavares in July of 2018. Three fights and less than a year later, Adesanya was fighting for the interim middleweight belt.

Shahbazyan believes he could follow the same path. He made his pro MMA debut in 2017 and already has 11 professional fights, five of them with the UFC. He wants to continue to be an active fighter but understands the closer he gets to the top, he has to pick and choose the fights wisely. While Shahbazyan and his team discuss potential opponents, he prefers to focus on training and has faith his coaches, management and the UFC will make wise decisions for him. He does believe his exciting style and ability to finish fights will boost him to the top.

‘Just do me’: Shahbazyan only focused on himself

Shahbazyan’s biggest obstacle toward achieving this goal isn’t time or his future opponents, but rather other young prospects working toward the same objective. Maycee Barber, 21, has also spoken at length about becoming the youngest UFC champion. But, Shahbazyan doesn’t like to view this as a race preferring to “just do me” and focusing on his fights, as that is all he can control.

Former Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi recently sparred with Shahbazyan and admitted he was only half as good as Shahbazyan when he was 21 years old. That is quite the compliment coming from one of the best 185-pound fighters in the world. The UFC’s middleweight division is one of the most competitive out there right now, and it won’t be an easy road ahead for Edmen. But don’t underestimate this young fighter who will likely enter the title picture in the near future.