If Petr Yan were a Major League Baseball player, his rookie campaign in 2018 would be akin to getting called up midway through the season and finishing the year as one of the most exciting players at his position.
Think an everyday player who comes up 75, 80 games into the season and just starts raking; he hits so well that the skipper can’t pull him out of the lineup and with each successive successful month, he moves a little further up the batting order, going from seventh to sixth to fifth until it reaches the point where everyone on the team and everyone watching understands that this kid is something special and someone who is going to be around for a long, long time.
Israel Adesanya was understandably last year’s Breakout Fighter of the Year after registering four victories in 10 months, including a unanimous decision win over Brad Tavares and a first-round finish of Derek Brunson, but Yan absolutely deserved to receive votes and enters 2019 as one of the most talented new additions to the UFC roster in quite some time.
The Russian bantamweight, who turned 26 just a handful of days ago, didn’t make his first foray into the Octagon until the end of June, when he showed up in Singapore, dusted Teruto Ishihara and justified the hype that accompanied is arrival.
Three months later, he went shot-for-shot in a wildly entertaining contest with Jin Soo Son, earning a fifth consecutive victory and showcasing his ability to maintain his trademark aggression while in the midst of a firefight.
Fifteen weeks later, Yan stepped into the Octagon for a third time, putting it on Douglas Silva de Andrade to the point that the Brazilian’s corner refused to let the ranked competitor continue after the second round expired.
Three fights and three wins in barely six months, with a pair of stoppages and a victory over a Top 15 fighter added to his resume.
Not bad for a mid-season call-up.
“When I signed my UFC contract, I didn’t expect that I would have three fights in such short period of time,” Yan said through a translator when asked about the whirlwind start to his UFC career. “I didn’t even think about it before, but everything goes how it goes, so it means it’s supposed to be this way.
“I think I did well enough in my (first) three UFC fights, but I don’t look back,” he added. “I think the best is yet to come. I still have things to work on, but the sky is the limit.”
That’s the same sentiment many observers had prior to Yan’s move to the UFC after falling in love with the entertaining, all-action fighter during his outstanding five-fight run competing under the ACB banner, highlighted by his Fight of the Year-worthy loss to Magomed Magomedov in March 2016 — a loss which he avenged 13 months later.
But few could have expected Yan to go from debuting to earning a place in the rankings in roughly six months or kicking off his 2019 campaign with a chance to cement his standing as a contender in the bantamweight ranks, but that’s exactly how things have played out.
His victory at UFC 232 catapulted him into the Top 15 and paved the way for this weekend’s showdown with divisional stalwart John Dodson in Prague.
A former flyweight title challenger and difficult puzzle to solve in the cage because of his movement, speed and power, Dodson is an outstanding litmus test for the surging Russian at this point in his career.
Though he’s alternated wins and losses since relocating to the bantamweight ranks, the long-time Jackson-Wink MMA Academy staple has given some of the best fighters at flyweight and bantamweight fits over the years and Yan acknowledges that he’ll have his hands full with Dodson on Saturday.
“With every fight I become more experienced and focused,” offered the Russian rising star. “I realize where I am at and that’s it going to only get harder, so I’m very concentrated for fight week.
“He moves a lot,” Yan said of Dodson, who enters Saturday’s contest off a split decision loss to Jimmie Rivera in September. “He’s a very explosive and impulsive fighter. I need to be focused and do my work, but I think everything is going to be all right.
“I need to find the target and hit it repeatedly,” he continued, giving his thoughts on how this weekend’s main card clash might play out. “By the second or third round, he will have damage and there will be an opportunity to finish the fight.
“But I don’t have a goal to finish the fight; my goal is to win and it doesn’t matter how.”
After putting together a great rookie season in 2018, the expectations for Yan are even higher as he readies to kick off his sophomore campaign on the UFC roster.
Last year, he burst onto the scene, set the division ablaze and set himself on course to become a perennial contender in the not too distant future.
This year, the aptly nicknamed “No Mercy” plans on taking things up a notch, following in the footsteps of Mike Trout, rather than being the UFC equivalent of Joe Charbonneau, Eric Hinske or some other rookie sensation who never managed to replicate their early career success.
“In 2019, I want to cement myself in the Top 10 or Top 5,” said Yan. “I feel it’s possible to accomplish.”
A win over Dodson on Saturday night will certainly be a good way to start.