It took less than a year for Petr Yan to go from UFC rookie to a top five spot in the bantamweight rankings, a period that included five fights in the Octagon.
So when does “No Mercy” get a vacation?
“When I was signed to the UFC I didn’t think I can fight five times in less than a year, but offers kept coming my way and I’m not the guy to turn down the opportunities,” said Yan. “When you have a job to do it’s great; when there’s no job it’s bad. So I was just doing the job that I love.”In other words, the train will keep rolling for the foreseeable future, with the next stop being Las Vegas, where he will face UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber this Saturday. It will be Yan’s first bout since elbow surgery after his fifth UFC bout (and win) over Jimmie Rivera in June, so while it wasn’t a vacation for the Yekaterinburg product, it was a nice break to recharge his batteries for what is expected to be a 2020 title run.
“It was good for me to have a time to recover and recharge mentally and physically after a busy year like that,” he said. “The elbow injury was bothering me for seven months and it disturbed me during training and fights. Hopefully, December 14th will be the first time I will fight injury free in UFC.”
While a comforting thought for Yan and his team, knowing that he has been fighting at less than a hundred percent during his time in the Octagon has to be a little bit intimidating for future opposition. That, and the reality that the 26-year-old has not been shy about being willing to take on anyone and everyone at 135 pounds.
“I just want to fight the best and toughest opponents, those who are higher ranked and those who deserve the respect of the spectators, who people think are the best in the world,” Yan explains. “First of all, I love to challenge and test myself and I want to do something that people think is impossible to do. That’s why I want to fight the best.”
That confidence is evident not just in Yan’s statements in interviews and on social media, but more importantly in the Octagon, where his list of wins includes respected names like Rivera, John Dodson, Teruto Ishihara and Douglas Silva de Andrade.
“In our sport, it's necessary to have confidence in yourself,” he said. “If you won’t believe in yourself, who else would? You have to believe in yourself, your abilities and skills. You just need to work hard, believe and then you will succeed. Why even be in UFC if I don’t think I’m the best in the world?”
Yan’s style, presence, intensity and rapid rise to prominence are reminiscent of another combat sports standout from Russia – former world boxing champion Kostya Tszyu. Coincidentally, Yan lists the “Thunder from Down Under” as one of his sporting heroes on his UFC bio form.
“I used to do boxing before my MMA career and Kostya Tszyu was the guy I was looking up to,” said Yan. “I used to watch a lot of tape on him. At that time, he already lived and trained in Australia and there were a lot of documentaries made about him. It was very cool that he took his whole family with him, he made sure his parents didn’t have to work anymore, and he supported and took care of them and made sure they saw the world. He came from a small village and humble beginnings and it impressed me a lot, because I also come from a small village in Siberia and I can relate to him. I liked that he showed you can achieve anything if you work hard for it.”
Tszyu was a once per generation talent in the ring, beating the likes of former world champions Juan LaPorte and Livingstone Bramble by his 10th pro fight. He won his first world title in his 14th fight, shocking most observers. Yan just won his 14th when he beat Rivera. Could a couple more wins put Yan in a title fight and in the under 20 fights championship club?
“I hope that my win against Faber will secure me the title fight in 2020,” he said. “Of course it will be very cool and I believe I deserve it. But now I am only focused on winning this fight. We can talk and plan what will happen after that.”
To a lot of folks, it was surprising to see Faber take this fight with Yan in just his second fight since a two-and-a-half-year retirement. Yan is in that camp.
“I was surprised he took the fight because it looked like he didn’t really want to fight me in the first place,” he said. “In the end, I feel like he took this fight because of money and because the UFC really wanted to make this fight happen.”
But now that it’s here, does Yan see any difficulties in dealing with “The California Kid?”
“I think he is an experienced and crafty opponent who had many fights in the UFC and he has a big name,” said Yan of his foe. “For me it will be huge experience to fight him and to showcase what I’m capable of doing. My win against him will be another step towards the title fight, so I hope to have a great performance and win over him. But I don’t think he presents many difficulties to me today as long as I don't relax and lose concentration. I just need to impose my pace and my game plan and, most importantly, I need to stay focused the whole fight and I will be ready for whatever he will do.”
And then it’s off to what may end being the biggest year of his life.
“I will only turn 27 years old in 2020 and I’m still in the development stage and have a lot of improvements I can make,” Yan said. “If I will add enough individual work with different specialists, I still have room to grow in every aspect and, of course, I still have time and desire to compete, so I will keep fighting like I did in 2019 if I have opportunity for it.”