Adrian Yanez has never had a nickname.
For one reason or another, nothing has ever really stuck or felt right to the 27-year-old emerging bantamweight, who returns to action on Saturday in a showdown with British veteran Davey Grant. If things continue to go the way they have leading into this weekend’s clash with Grant, however, Yanez might not have a choice but to accept a new, absolutely fitting moniker: “Apex.”
“I do love it because I’ll be the apex predator,” said the excitable rising star, touching on one of reasons the name could be so fitting. “Brendan Fitzgerald gave me the ‘Mr. Knockout’ nickname — some people have used it, but I don’t know why — I’ve just never seemed to be a nickname guy.
“Some people try to give me a nickname and it’s cool, but I could never sit around and be like, ‘No, call me ‘Mr. Knockout’’ or whatever. I’ve never been that guy.”
Along with the whole “top of the food chain” angle, the other reason “Apex” would be so perfect is that each of the Houston native’s last four fights have taken place the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, and Yanez has blown the roof off the joint every single time.
It started last summer on Dana White’s Contender Series when he registered a 39-second knockout win over Brady Huang to punch his ticket to the UFC and continued 11 weeks later when he scored a first-round knockout win over Ray Rodriguez in his promotional debut. Then in March, Yanez collected a deeply satisfying third-round finish of Gustavo Lopez, who questioned the former LFA standout’s credentials prior to the contest, following it up with a second-round stoppage win over Randy Costa in late July.
Four fights, four wins, four finishes, and a Performance of the Night bonus in each of his first three trips into the Octagon make it pretty clear that Yanez is comfortable at the Las Vegas venue and the nickname would make a great deal of sense.
“I feel comfortable there,” Yanez blurted out when asked about competing at the UFC APEX, his genuine zeal for fighting and being in the position he’s in radiating through the phone and obvious in his up-tempo manner of speaking. “It’s almost like I’m fighting at home.
“This is where I come to fight,” he continued. “I come to the APEX to fight. I had that back here whenever I was in the Houston Arena Theatre or the Bayou City Events Center when I would fight locally, and now for the UFC, it’s the APEX.”
Those successful work trips to Las Vegas have transformed Yanez from a talented prospect looking to land a place on the UFC roster to one of the brightest rising stars in the sport in only a year’s time, with each successive outing offering a deep look at what makes the surging talent so special.
It’s not just the finishes — though they have been great — but it’s things like patiently working into the third round before finding the range and timing needed to put Lopez down or rallying to stop Costa after dropping the opening stanza that show he’s more than just another guy with sharp hands and keen finishing instincts.
Talking to Yanez about his impressive rise and the accolades he’s receiving drives it home even more.
“I feel blessed that people are looking at me that way,” began the promising bantamweight, who carries a 14-3 record into Saturday’s meeting with Grant. “But it’s been long overdue because I’ve been working my *** off for a long time, and I’ve had some pretty severe injuries during my career, so it’s exciting to see the hard work paying off.”
Yanez laughed, amused by his own assertiveness and frankness, even though he meant every word of it.
“I know there is still a lot of work, too,” he added. “Everybody can say I’m the next guy and ‘Watch out for him,’ but I still have to put in the work. I still have to go out there and keep working.
“I can’t get caught up in any of it.”
That last piece is one of the many lessons imparted on Yanez and his teammates by their late coach, “The Godfather of Texas MMA” Saul Soliz, who passed away earlier this year.
In addition to teaching his charges technical elements and giving them a good foundation to build upon, the highly respected head man of Houston’s Metro Fight Team also tried to make sure fighters like Yanez took the time to reflect on what they’ve done as it was happening.
“My coach was around the game for such a long time that he was always a big advocate that you have to sit around and look at what’s around you, and if you don’t, you’ll miss your moments,” recalled Yanez. “So I’ve always sat back and reminisced on how everything has gone, especially after my Contender Series fight.
“That was a big step and being able to go in there and perform, surpass a big goal that I’ve had for a very long time, that was surreal to me.
“I’ve been able to sit back and enjoy all of it. It’s been fun, especially when you have someone in your ear saying, ‘I know you’re worried about the future, but take a second and just know what you did. You’ve done some great things. A lot of people don’t get here, but you got here; enjoy it for right how. When it’s time to fight, you’ve got to be serious, but right now, take the time.’”
He paused, sitting with the words of his departed coach.
“That’s exactly what I’ve done after every single fight, and I take that to heart every time.”
Yanez’s appreciation for where he’s at and what he’s accomplished is never more apparent than when he speaks about this weekend’s pairing with Grant, who was limited by injuries over the first five years of his UFC career, but has returned to become a veteran presence just outside the rankings in the talent-rich bantamweight division over the last two years.
“Oh, man — I was really, really excited because I know who Davey Grant is, what he brings, the fight that’s going to come,” Yanez excitedly recalled when asked his reaction to hearing the news of his booking against the entertaining Brit. “It’s not an easy fight. It’s never an easy fight against him and it’s always going to be one of those — it’s a style that I love. I love being able to push the pace and have someone that’s going to stand there and trade with me.
“It’s fun. It’s fun for the fans. It’s Davey Grant!
“He’s a big name,” Yanez continued, his pace quickening to match his excitement about the pairing. “I have immense respect for him. Now I’m starting to fight those guys that I know, and they’re people I’ve watched when I was outside the organization.
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“He’s not ranked in the Top 15, but if you beat Davey Grant, it puts you up there.”
It most certainly does, and if Yanez accomplishes that feat on Saturday, securing his fourth victory in as many appearances while pushing his winning streak to eight overall, it will leave him on the cusp of breaking into the rankings, and ratchet the hype and excitement surrounding his future potential up another notch or two.
And it will make it pretty clear that after all these years of not having a nickname, he’s going to have to get used to being called “Apex Adrian” going forward.