Edmen Shahbazyan disciplined for flying “illegal regime flag” in Brunson fight

Edmen Shahbazyan
Image Credit: Edmen Shahbazyan's Instagram

UFC middleweight contender Edmen Shahbazyan has reportedly been disciplined for displaying the flag of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in his recent loss to Derek Brunson.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is a region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is predominantly populated by Armenians, many of whom feel it belongs to Armenia. The contested region was the subject of a short war in 1920, another violent conflict in the early 90s, and has been the site of several bloody skirmishes as recently as this year. Suffice it to say that is remains the source of much turmoil, with both countries claiming ownership of it.

Shahbazyan, a proud Armenian, displayed the Nagorno-Karabakh flag in his corner before his fight with Brunson began, and for better or for worse, the gesture did not go over well with Azerbaijan.

Nasimi Aghayev, Consul General of Azerbaijan to the Western United States, even penned a complaint to the UFC about the incident. 

Here’s how an excerpt from an article on APA.az explains this incident (h/t MMA Mania):

“Let us remind you that E. Shahbazyan entered the octagon within the framework of the UFC Fight Night 173 tournament with the flag of the unrecognized NKR. In connection with this incident, the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles (USA) sent a letter of protest to the UFC President. The letter notes that the illegal regime is the result of Armenia’s military aggression against Azerbaijan. The UFC leadership has been informed that the United States unequivocally supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. With reference to the UFC rules, it was noted that it is allowed to raise the flags only of states recognized at the international level and a requirement was made to take appropriate disciplinary measures against a fighter of Armenian origin for trying to politicize the competition and not repeat such cases in the future.

Aghayev’s grievance was apparently acknowledged by the UFC, and Shahbazyan has been punished.

According to a report from AXAR.az, “The Armenian athlete and his coaches apologized to the UFC,” “Reebok immediately stopped cooperating with the provocative Armenian and refused to finance it,” and “[UFC President] Dana White expelled from the UFC a 20-year-old employee who allowed the so-called flag to enter the ring.”

Consul General Aghayev, who brought this Edmen Shahbazyan situation to the UFC’s attention, seems satisfied with the discipline the promotion has undertaken.