Petr Yan and Merab Dvalishvili are trying to stay afloat in the shark-infested bantamweight waters. The two are set to collide into each other at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Yan (16-4) remains one of the best bantamweights on the planet but finds himself in desperate need of a turnaround after back-to-back split-decision losses to UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and Sean O'Malley. The O'Malley fight was particularly painful with 25 of 26 media scores siding with Yan, per MMA Decisions. The Russian finds himself with consecutive losses for the first time in his career and the looming threat of his first losing streak should he falter on Saturday. An enraged Yan contemplated leaving the UFC after his questionable loss to O'Malley, but he reeled in the emotions ahead of the Dvalishvili fight.
"I made a decision if I need to move forward, I need to forget about the past. So I'm just thinking about the future," Yan told reporters at media day on Wednesday. "You always want to finish the fight earlier, you don't want to leave it in the hands of the judges. So, my goal is to finish it.
"I think I already beat O'Malley. If I have to do it again I will do it more convincingly."
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Dvalishvili (15-4) unlocked something special after a rough 0-2 start in the UFC. Dvalishvili subsequently went on an eight-run tear against the likes of Jose Aldo, Marlon Moraes, Cody Stamann and John Dodson. Exceeding 10 takedowns in three different UFC fights perhaps best exemplifies Dvalishvili's suffocating wrestling game. Dvalishvili can build a reasonable case for a title shot with an impressive showing against Yan. Dvalishvili has been unusually provocative in the lead-up to the fight. He criticized Yan for illegally kneeing Dvalishvili's dear friend Sterling at UFC 259 and accused Yan of generally poor etiquette.
"He's a great fighter. He's dangerous. He doesn't have holes anywhere. He's a good striker," Dvalishvili said. "He defends wrestling well. His cardio is good. This is my toughest fight. I think he's a great fighter, a good family guy, but he's not a humble guy. He's not a great human. It doesn't matter how good of a fighter you are, you have to be a good person.
"You have to treat people well. I don't care if you're a good fighter or not. I just want to be a good man for people and to give an example to other people. He's a cheater. He was the champion and he didn't know the rules. He was disrespectful to my friend. He didn't use his platform when he was champion. He wasn't doing great things. He wasn't doing any charity or doing any humble things. I don't think he's a good guy."
Yan insists the animosity is one-sided and that he has no interest in feeding Dvalishvii's gluttonous self-promotion.
"I think he doesn't have any other way to bring attention to himself," Yan said. "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.
"I'm not interested in promoting him either. He tries to push himself too hard. He tries to force himself on being a fan favorite, but it never works out that way. The way he acts off-camera is different. The way he acts on camera is a different way. When there's no camera he's not saying much."
Dvalishvili's longtime coach Ray Longo has had the benefit of preparing Sterling for Yan on two separate occasions, but he sees Saturday's main event as uniquely challenging.
"They're so different in their grappling approaches," Longo told CBS Sports. "I think because Aljo has the grappling approach plus a really crazy style of jiu-jitsu. Merab is not going to have that. He's more of a power-based guy. Merab doesn't move like Aljo, he doesn't kick like Aljo. He's gotta fight Merab's fight and that's the interesting part. We kind of know what to expect for certain things, but it's just not linear logic like that. It might be comforting, but you're only going to know once you get in there."
Check out the full interview with Ray Longo below.
The undercard fills out with some interesting matchups on Saturday night. Heavyweights collide in the co-main event when Alexander Romanov takes on Alexander Volkov. Romanov is coming off the first loss of his career last August after starting out with a 16-fight win streak. Volkov, meanwhile, has alternated wins and losses in his last four and is coming off a TKO win over Jair Rozenstruik. Plus, a failed main event gets a second chance at life when Nikita Krylov takes on Ryan Spann at at a catchweight. The two were set to meet weeks ago until Krylov came down with an illness just hours before the fight was set to begin.
"I take my food in evening Friday, and Saturday morning I take food. After 90 minutes, maybe two hours, I feel my temperature get higher. I feel [nauseous]. We [came to the APEX] worked with the doctor. He gave me one pill. After one more pill we tried (all that we could to make the fight)," Krylov told reporters on Wednesday. "I couldn't do it."
Below is the rest of the fight card for Saturday night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to a prediction and pick on the main event.
UFC Fight Night card, odds
|Petr Yan -250||Merab Dvalishvili +205||Bantamweight|
|Alexander Romanov -155||Alexander Volkov +130||Heavyweight|
|Nikita Krylov -170||Ryan Spann +145||Catchweight|
|Ricardo Ramos -360||Austin Lingo +280||Featherweight|
|Said Nurmagomedov -240||Jonathan Martinez +200||Bantamweight|
|Vitor Petrino -110||Anton Turkalj -110||Light Heavyweight|
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: March 11 | Start time: 6 p.m. ET (main card)
Location: The Theater at Virgin Hotels -- Las Vegas, Nevada
TV channel: ESPN+
Petr Yan vs. Merab Dvalishvili: I'm not ready to cast off Yan quite yet. The loss to O'Malley is debatable and the Sterling fight was very competitive. Dvalishvili can certainly ground Yan, but I'm not confident he can maintain top control with the same efficacy that Sterling did in the second Yan fight. Dvalishvili has an absurdly high average of 6.54 takedowns per fight with an accuracy rate of 60%, but only manages .30 submissions per 15 minutes. Yan has a stellar 90% takedown defense and is a capable offensive wrestler himself, going a perfect seven-for-seven on takedowns in his first meeting with Sterling. The gap in skill between Dvalishvili and Yan is wider in the striking department. Yan is one of the best bantamweight boxers in terms of technique and power. This fight will come down to Dvalishvili's ability to stick to Yan over 25 minutes. A close decision is certainly in play for either fighter. Yan generally needs time to make his reads. Expect a strong first two rounds for Dvalishvili followed by a competitive home stretch. Yan via decision
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