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Petr Yan of Russia holds an open training session for fans and media during UFC 267 open workouts at W Hotel on October 27, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Petr Yan Ready To Punish

Not Deterred By Recent Setbacks, Former Champ Preps For Another Title Run Starting Saturday vs Merab Dvalishvili

Over the last two years, Petr Yan has gone from sitting atop the UFC bantamweight division as the undisputed ruler of the deepest, most competitive weight class in the promotion to facing a litany of questions as he readies to take on Merab Dvalishvili in the main event of Saturday’s debut fight card at The Theater at Virgin Hotels.

On March 6, 2021, Yan defended his bantamweight title against Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259. After seizing back momentum in the third round, he cracked the challenger with an illegal knee in the waning moments of the fourth round, leading to a disqualification loss. While he quickly got back into the win column by claiming interim gold in a victory over Cory Sandhagen, a split decision loss to Sterling followed in their rematch at UFC 273 last April, leaving Yan with a sour taste in his mouth.

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And then in October, “No Mercy” again found himself on the frustrating side of a split decision verdict, suffering a second consecutive loss to surging contender Sean O’Malley at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi.

“I just have to consider that judges can see the fight in a different way,” Yan said, reflecting on his narrow setbacks just a few days prior to returning to action against Dvalishvili. “But I also try to not leave it in the hands of the judges.”

Petr Yan | Must See Moments
Petr Yan | Must See Moments

Prior to his initial encounter with Sterling, the 30-year-old Russian had lost just once in his professional career — again by split decision — in a clash with Magomed Magomedov, but he was able to avenge the defeat 13 months later and embark on the run of success that not only carried him into the UFC, but to the top of the division, as well.

Now, the fighter who registered 15 wins in his first 16 appearances has earned just a solitary victory over his last four fights and finds himself in the midst of the first losing streak of his career, even if it’s the shortest streak possible.

FREE FIGHT:  Petr Yan vs Cory Sandhagen

Losses can weigh on a fighter, lingering in their mind, causing them to question where mistakes were made or what went wrong in a particular fight or individual moment in each bout that swung the result the other way. It can be doubly challenging when you walked to the center of the Octagon, confident you had done enough to get your hand raised, only to hear Bruce Buffer bellow out your opponent’s name instead.

Some competitors dwell on setbacks, are driven by setbacks, and never quite get over the frustrating moments when things didn’t go their way.

Petr Yan of Russia knees Urijah Faber in their bantamweight bout during the UFC 245 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 14, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Petr Yan of Russia knees Urijah Faber in their bantamweight bout during the UFC 245 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 14, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Yan isn’t one of those athletes.

“I’m not focused on the past,” he said when asked about his current uncharacteristic run of results. “I’m just thinking about my training and my performance. I want my actions to prove I’m the best. I’m just focused on moving forward and winning my next fight, returning to the title race.”

RELATED: Merab Dvalishvili Knows This Fight Means More | Saturday's Full Fight Card Breakdown

It’s a wise approach given that the man he’s poised to share the Octagon with this weekend is tied with Sterling — his teammate and best friend — for having the longest consecutive winning streak in the division.

Dvalishvili lost each of his first two UFC appearances, dropping a split decision to Frankie Saenz in his debut before a controversial submission loss to Ricky Simon at the end of the third round of his sophomore outing. Since then, the 30-year-old from Georgia has strung together eight consecutive wins by deploying a suffocating style built around an unrelenting pace and borderline maniacal love of taking opponents down.

Petr Yan | Journey To Champion
Petr Yan | Journey To Champion

In the course of his current winning streak, Dvalishvili has secured 46 takedowns, an average of 5.75 takedowns per contest, which is astounding on its face, but even more impressive given that he posted zero in 16 attempts against now-retired Brazilian legend Jose Aldo last time out.

“Training was the same as usual,” Yan said when asked about adjustments following his recent close encounters. “Of course I’ve been working on cage work and takedown defense, but I did not forget about my strengths.”

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As for how to contend with his adversary’s smothering style and willingness to fight in close quarters along the fence for long periods, the stoic Russian standout has some ideas on how to combat those tactics on Saturday night.

"We have to punish him for that. We have to punish him every time he wants to close range,” said Yan, who remains stationed at No. 2 in the bantamweight rankings, one spot ahead of Dvalishvili, despite his recent setbacks. “We have to defend the takedowns and bring the damage on the feet.

“I believe I’m the more well-rounded fighter than Merab, and that will help me.”

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One other thing that could potentially help Yan this weekend is Las Vegas is his decision to not allow this fight to be personal for himself in any way.

There was a great deal of animosity and emotion present in each of his two fights with Sterling, neither of which went his way, and he and O’Malley were happy enough to chirp at one another in the lead-up to their clash in Abu Dhabi last October, as well, only for Yan to once again fall on the wrong side of the results.

So while Dvalishvili is all fired up heading into Saturday main event, Yan has opted to pay it no mind.

“I’m not looking back at those fights,” he said when asked about the level of emotion present in his last two contests. “I’m just focusing on my next fight and not taking it personal, unlike my opponent.”

Petr Yan Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Yan vs Dvalishvili
Petr Yan Discusses His Upcoming Bout With Merab Dvalishvili At UFC Fight Night: Yan vs Dvalishvili on March 11, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Petr Yan Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Yan vs Dvalishvili

For Yan, all that matters is this Saturday — not a Saturday night in the United Arab Emirates five months ago or Jacksonville, Florida just under a year ago.

The mission is to secure a victory and get back into the championship mix, and if beating Dvalishvili and ending his lengthy winning streak isn’t enough to do the trick, he’s more than happy to keep fighting and turning back whoever he has to face in order to make that happen.

“I’m just focusing on the present and the future; not thinking about the past,” he said. “My goal is to get another win and to get another title shot. If I have to earn another win (after this one) in order to do it, I will do it.”

As for how he gets the job done this weekend, the man of few words kept that answer pretty concise, as well.

“I will just try to dominate from the beginning of the fight and enforce my style on him.”

Watch Power Slap 1 March 11 on Rumble

UFC Fight Night: Yan vs Dvalishvili took place live from The Theater At Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on March 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive all the action at UFC Fight Pass