Despite being one of the few fighters who can perform his own walk-in music, Russian newcomer and occasional rap artist Alexander Yakovlev makes no bones about where his heart truly lies.
“Rap for me is nothing more than a hobby,” said Yakovlev through translator Brigitte Narcise. “I shot two videos for my MMA fans, just to be more captivating and interesting. I do not have strong ties to the music world: I am truly a fighter at heart.”
With over ten years as a pro and 21 wins in 26 fights, he’s not exaggerating, and he’s no part-timer either. That experience and dedication are necessary elements heading into his UFC debut this Saturday, as he not only faces a legitimate welterweight contender in Demian Maia, but he’s doing it in Maia’s backyard of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Neither prospect is dulling the excitement felt by the “Bad Boy.”
“I feel great, there is so much excitement,” he said. “Certainly there are people who are positive or negative about me fighting Maia, but one thing is for sure: no one is indifferent.”
Originally scheduled to face off with another Brazilian grappling ace, Yan Cabral, at UFC Fight Night in Cincinnati earlier this month, Yakovlev stepped up to replace the injured Mike Pierce against Maia on this weekend’s card, and while it’s a significantly bigger risk, there’s also a significantly bigger reward if he wins. The Great Novgorod native refuses to look that far ahead.
“I don't like to dream about what will be,” he said. “I love to come and take the opportunity, and if I was destined to be in the top 10, I'll be there. I try not to give in to emotions and get too far ahead of myself; I try to approach the fights with a cool head and a hot heart, and we’ll deal with the aftermath when that happens.”
That’s a good outlook to have, especially with so much ahead of him this week. Not just Maia and his UFC debut, but his first bout outside of Russia as well.
“Time, climate, and diet changes can certainly affect a fighter,” he admits. “I came to Brazil extra early, specifically to allow my body to adjust to these things. I think it’s a big mistake to downplay how much these factors can affect your physical performance, and I certainly don’t take that very lightly. My coaches and I want to give myself every possible advantage for this fight.”
He’ll need them against an opponent who may have two less professional fights, but who dwarfs him in terms of UFC experience against the likes of Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, Chris Weidman, Mark Munoz, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, and Rory MacDonald. Again, that’s not stating anything Yakovlev doesn’t already know.
“Demian has a great deal of experience in the UFC, and Jiu-Jitsu is his forte,” he said. “I have done a lot of work in this area, especially while training in the USA at K Dojo Warrior Tribe under coach Murat Keshtov. I am confident that I can effectively handle anything he has for me on the ground. I may be new to the UFC, but I do have extensive experience myself.”
He does, and while most of the names on his record may be unfamiliar to UFC fans, the man he defeated in his last bout this past November, Paul Daley, is certainly recognizable. But as he points out, don’t look at that fight and assume he’s a finished project. To the 29-year-old, the best is yet to come.
“My style changes from fight to fight,” he said. “I feel that I am constantly growing and making progress. My style depends on my opponent, of his strengths and weaknesses. I would call my style “Chameleon.’”
That’s another necessary component to having success in what has rapidly turned into the sport’s most competitive weight class.
“I think it's the strongest division in the UFC,” Yakovlev said of the 170-pounders. “They have assembled some of the best guys in the world in that division, and I am honored to be a part of it.”
So can we assume that if given a choice, he would take a UFC championship belt over a platinum rap album?
“All my creativity in terms of music was only for the showmanship,” he said. “I never felt drawn to pursue music, but I always wanted to fight. So the answer is simple: I would take the UFC belt.”
Alexander Yakovlev: Say Hello to the Bad Boy
"Certainly there are people who are positive or negative about me fighting Maia, but one thing is for sure: no one is indifferent." - Alexander Yakovlev