It’s a special sort of submission win when you make your opponent tap with their feet.
Revenge is a dish best served cold and rematches are bouts best fought calculated, which Rani Yahya discovered as he ended the first rivalry of his 12-year pro MMA career, making Johnny Bedford submit to a kimura by stomping his foot.
“Well, I had to be very cold because the things were heated the first time we met,” Yahya said. “The trash talking gave me extra motivation. It was very different than the other opponents I have had. All the people in my hometown were coming to me and saying that I should kick his ass. I had a lot of motivation going into this bout against him and it worked out well. We fought and now my thing with him is over and I wish him the best.”
Obviously, it wasn’t a blood feud, but Yahya’s first tilt in the UFC bantamweight division against Bedford in April 2014 became personal. Only 30 or so seconds into the scrap, an accidental headbutt stopped the fight prematurely and the insinuations in the aftermath turned opponents into temporary enemies. The second scuffle built on their new found bitter taste toward the other was set for five months later in Yahya’s hometown of Brasilia, Brazil at UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Arlovski.
“Fighting in my hometown was amazing,” Yahya said. “I felt very good about everything. I could sleep in my bed, I did eat my home food, I had all the support of the fans and I didn't have to spend many hours inside an airplane. I believe all of this really did help me during the bout.”
Yahya spent half of the first round against The Ultimate Fighter 14 alum hunting for a guillotine choke off his back. In the second stanza, the 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu really started to shine, turning a failed takedown attempt into a sweep off an “ashi garami” leg lock. From there, Yahya worked his way to side control, wrapped up a kimura, kneeled over Bedford’s head and wrenched back on the submission. With Yahya torquing Bedford’s left arm with the hold while Bedford’s right arm was tangled in Yahya’s legs, Bedford was forced to signal his tapping by stomping his foot.
“I went into the fight looking for the finish no matter what,” Yahya said. “I tried a guillotine in the first round, and I was also throwing some really hard punches, which I could notice he felt. So, the submission - it was a matter of time. I was happy with the win, but I was not satisfied at all. I truly believe that I could do better than that. But most of the fans liked it.”
The win improved Yahya’s pro record to 20-8, 1NC including 16 sub stoppages. Also, it was a return to form in a division where the 30-year-old once held great sway when competing in the WEC. While he has earned four wins inside the Octagon at the heavier featherweight, Yahya was a title challenger at 135 pounds and cashed in three consecutive Submission of the Night bonuses on three consecutive first-round choke finishes in the WEC. The former ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist’s aggressive grappling attack should be seen as a big threat for fellow UFC bantamweights.
“Since I was a young kid, I have wanted to fight MMA, so I made my jiu-jitsu more effective towards that goal instead of becoming a great jiu-jitsu competitor,” Yahya humbly said. “The jiu-jitsu which is effective for MMA is the one that closes the distance, takes the fight to the floor, works on the advantage positions and then submits. It is kind of what Ronda Rousey has been doing, even though she comes from judo.”
Up next, Yahya heads to San Diego to take on Masanori Kanehara. A former featherweight champion in a major promotion in his native Japan, Kanehara made his successful Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Nelson by earning a unanimous decision win over the always-game Alex Caceres. Kanehara has a lot of experience and a knack for scoring first round finishes, which he owns seven by KO and seven by submission. Regardless of Kanehara’s resume, Yahya is supremely confident he will be the one getting his hand raised.
“I love new challenges,” Yahya said. “Kanehara represents a good one. I respect him, but I will destroy him. He has his value as a fighter, but he has nothing special. I am better than him in every aspect of MMA.”
In preparation for Kanehara, Yahya is busy keeping his status as the standard-bearer for Brasilia’s Constrictor Team. “We believe that we are one of the best schools that make the best use of BJJ in MMA and one of our inspirations is definitely the constrictor snakes,” Yahya said who has been learning jiu jitsu’s equivalent of parseltongue from renowned head coach Ataide Junior. In charge of making Yahya dangerous in the stand-up is boxing coach Gabriel de Oliveira and Muay Thai coach Rodrigo Aguiar.
At UFC Fight Night: Mir vs. Duffee, bantamweights will battle as Yahya aims to keep climbing the division’s rankings by taking out Kanehara. “My techniques and my experience are my main advantage for me now,” Yahya said. “I am in my best moment and feeling very confident. I will do the very best that I can.”