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Yan Xiaonan Ready For Seat At The Elite Table

Streaking Strawweight Set To Crack The Top 5 With Win Saturday In Vegas

In combat sports they call it “chin” - the toleration of strikes to the face and head without getting knocked unconscious. But if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to watch Yan Xiaonan Octagonside, you’ll understand how a word as simple as “chin” doesn’t adequately capture the strawweight’s secret weapon.

“When I get hit hard, it definitely makes me want to fight back, so I will continue to attack my opponent.”

She’s being diplomatic, of course. A better way to describe it would be with every punch her opponents land, the more punches are unleashed upon them, multiplying like Gremlins fed after midnight. Coupled with seemingly bottomless cardio power, the Liaoning, China native continues to be a terrifying riddle no fighter has been able to solve in over 10 years. For a fighter that cherishes simple things like shopping, sleeping and cartoons in her spare time, her persona outside of the Octagon can be hard to square with her fury inside of it.

Yan Xiaonan of China poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in on November 24, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
On the scale for her UFC debut, November 24, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

When she meets Claudia Gadelha this Saturday on UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Teixeira’s main card, she’ll encounter a similarly enigmatic opponent. The 18-4 Brazilian has never been finished in her career and boasts a gas tank that allows her to go wire to wire with ease. It’s safe to assume this will be a war of attrition, and it’s one Yan is prepared for.

“My opponent is a veteran, but I think this fight will go to me,” she says confidently.  “I will win.”

If her prediction holds true, it will continue a perfect run in her six UFC fights, a hit list that also includes division standouts like Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Angela Hill. It would also land her safely in the division’s Top 5, where only the elite challengers remain. If the 31-year old succeeds, her hopes are simple.

Yan Xiaonan of China celebrates her victory over Angela Hill in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 238 event at the United Center on June 8, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Celebrating victory over Angela Hill at UFC 238, June 8, 2019 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I hope MMA fans around the world will pay attention to me.”

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While plenty have taken notice, Yan is seeking a permanent role in the recurring drama atop the division that has for years belonged to names like Rose Namajunas, Jessica Andrade, Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Yan’s compatriot, champion Zhang Weili. The focus on those fighters has allowed her to fly under the radar as she put her violent campaign together, but now she’s ready for a bigger seat at the table.

Yan Xiaonan of China kicks Karolina Kowalkiewicz of Poland in their strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Spark Arena on February 23, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Yan Xiaonan kicks Karolina Kowalkiewicz during the UFC Fight Night event at Spark Arena on February 23, 2020 in Auckland, NZ (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“If I make it into the top 5, I hope I can challenge Zhang Weili for the title in the next fight,” she says without hesitation. “If Dana White thinks I need one more before the title shot, then I'll do it.  But one more fight max between this fight and the title shot.”

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A Chinese UFC champion taking on a Chinese title challenger would be among the most historical of company moments in a division that has always loved to create them. Nobody is more aware of this than Yan.

“We are from the same country, we are comrades and compatriots in this sport,” she explains. “I hope that my presence in the UFC, as well as my performance, can give future Chinese MMA athletes an example and would inspire them to love and gain passion for this sport.”