Petr Yan (16-4 MMA, 8-3 UFC) and Merab Dvalishvili (15-4 MMA, 8-2 UFC) are set to clash in the UFC main event on Saturday. The match, with tension in the air, also carries grave title implications at bantamweight, with the winner most likely one more victory away from a title shot after Saturday.
Paths to the Main Event
Dvalishvili has been on a tear of late, winning eight straight after starting out 0-2 in the UFC. Dvalishvili followed losses to Frankie Saenz and Ricky Simon with wins over the likes of Jose Aldo, Marlon Moraes, Cody Stamann, John Dodson and Casey Kenney.
“The Machine,” a tireless wrestler with the cardio to go hard for 15 minutes, draws his first UFC main event. It will be interesting to see how Dvalishvili paces himself over 25 if it goes that far. Dvalishvili’s trademark win came over Aldo, the former UFC featherweight king, at UFC 278 in August. He will look to supplant that with a win over a prime Petr Yan.
While Dvalishvili enters the fight red hot, Yan is on a bit of a cold snap. Yan, the former bantamweight champion, has gone a hard-luck 1-3 in his past four.
Yan’s misfortunes started in his title defense over current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. Yan, in a fight he was winning, hit Sterling with an illegal knee late in the fourth round that rendered him unable to continue. Yan was disqualified and lost his title. He secured a rematch when he defeated Corey Sandhagen over five rounds for the interim title.
Sterling, better pacing himself than in the first fight with Yan, won an air-tight split decision to retain his title. Yan looked to put himself back in title contention when he fought Sean O’Malley at UFC 280. “No Mercy” found himself on the short end of another razor-thin split decision.
Prior to his rough stretch, Yan was 7-0 in the UFC. His run culminated in winning the vacant bantamweight title against Aldo when he finished him with ground and pound in the fifth round. Yan also has wins over Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera, and Dodson. Before his UFC run, Yan was the bantamweight champion at Absolute Championship Berkut.
The winner of Yan vs. Dvalishvili would take a huge step toward earning a title shot. While O’Malley waits in the wings, the UFC is finalizing a title fight between Sterling and former bantamweight and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo, ESPN reported. The fight is targeted for May 6, but contracts have not yet been signed, according to ESPN.
Should the time come for a Dvalishvili title shot, Sterling would likely vacate the belt and head to featherweight, as the two are training partners and close friends. Sterling has the likely tasks of Cejudo and O’Malley in front of him first, however.
Yan likely wants a third fight against Sterling to give him a chance to avenge his two official losses to the champion.
Yan, representing Russia, and Dvalishvili, hailing from the country of Georgia, have beefed leading into their main event fight.
“We all know Russia what they’re doing to Ukraine now, what they did to Georgia,” Dvalishvili told MMAJunkie and other reports. “Russia is not a (politically) democratic country. I know I want to win for my people. I have so much support from my country and so much support from Ukraine, too.”
Yan told MMAJunkie and other outlets that “no one is interested in Merab.”
“I think he doesn’t have any other way to bring attention to himself,” Yan said through an interpreter at Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 221 media day. “He cannot do it with his fights. In his fights, all he does is, like a dog, take the leg and push his opponents up to the cage. So he’s just trying to get a little attention or something. No one is interested in him.”
Buckle up, as this main event promises to be a good one. And a crucial one.
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