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