‘Don't expect any mercy from me when stepping in the cage’ – latest Russian UFC signing Petr Yan
Absolute Championship Berkut (ACB) bantamweight champion Yan, who defended his belt in dominant fashion last September by knocking out his previously undefeated opponent from Brazil in the third round, announced his expected signing with the UFC on Tuesday.
‘Hey UFC bantamweight division watch out! No Mercy is here,’ wrote the 24-year-old Siberian in the caption to the photo of him signing the papers.
Yan vacated his ACB belt at the beginning of November and announced his pre-contract agreement to sign with the UFC once he had recovered from leg surgery, much to the surprise of ACB fans, who didn’t expect such a quick transfer for a fighter with just nine professional fights on his record.
While his belt defense was evidently straightforward for the 24-year-old, it was his two fights for the championship that made his name in Russian MMA. Two five-round wars for victory against outstanding Dagestan native Magomed Magomedov became instant classics for Russian MMA in 2016 and 2017.
Having suffered his first career loss against Magomedov in 2016, Yan was still a winner in the eyes of many fight fans, including ACB head Mairbek Khasiev, who expressed his opinion right after the fight. There was a headbutt at the very end of the fifth round which took a point in the close fight, and denied Yan the ACB belt for a year. However, he subsequently claimed the title and successfully defended it in the September bout against Matheus Mattos.
Following the announcement of Yan’s signing with the American promotion, RT Sport contacted the newest Russian UFC fighter, who is currently training in Thailand.
First of all, congratulations on signing with the UFC. Could you tell us a little more about your contract and how it all came about?
My contract is for four fights. And I have a few managers who helped me to get it all done. All the rest is secret information (laughing).
It might be early to ask you this, but do you have any understanding who you are going to face in your first fight? Would you want to meet some of the newcomers or test yourself against someone who’s already rated in the UFC?
No, I don’t know anything about it yet. I’m still recovering from surgery. So when I’m ready to get back to fighting, we’ll talk about it with the UFC.
Even though you signed your contract with the UFC just this week, you announced that you vacated your ACB belt in November, right after you defended it for the first time. Did you know back then that you would definitely sign a UFC contract?
Well, ACB wanted to resign me right after my last fight, which was my last bout under the contract. They told me that I either had to sign or vacate the belt. I didn’t want to play games with them and constantly postpone the signing. So we shook hands and announced that I had vacated the belt. Because I already knew about the possible signing with the UFC. Although I had no 100 percent guarantee at that time.
So basically you were taking a risk?
Yes, I vacated the ACB belt, although I didn’t know for sure that I would sign with the UFC. But sometimes you’ve got to take a risk when you are chasing your goals.
So what sort of relationship do you have with ACB now?
I’d say we have a good relationship with ACB. We had a good and fruitful cooperation. And we stayed friends I hope.
Two former ACB champions, Gadzhimurad Antigulov and Zabit Magomedsharipov, have already made statements in the UFC, both already finished two opponents in two of their respective fights. Does it raise a certain bar for you? Or you don’t feel connected to them because you used to perform for the same organization?
I don’t see the connection really. Each fight is a fight. And it’s a different story every time. ACB is a strong organization, that’s why champions from there can compete and show a good result at a high level. But as I said, every time you go to the cage it’s a new story, so it will be between me and my opponent.
You nickname is ‘No Mercy’. Does it mean that you have no mercy for your opponent? Or for yourself as well?
It means for my opponents. Whoever steps in the cage against me shouldn’t expect any mercy from me.
Do you know when this is going to happen next? When should we expect your UFC debut?
I’m looking to get back in May or June. Preferably May.
We know that the UFC has booked a venue for September in Moscow, although it’s not official that they will hold their first event in Russia this fall. If that event happens, would you be interested in taking part?
Of course, if it’s happening I’d love to take part in it. I think it would be interesting for the fans as well. I was fighting in the main events in my last two fights in Moscow. So I guess it could bring some fans, maybe not as many as Khabib (Nurmagomedov) or some other Russian fighters. But yes, I’d love to take part in it.
Getting an American visa has become a problem for a number of Russian fighters lately. Possibly because of the current relations between the countries. Do you have an American visa?
No, I don’t have one yet, but I hope that I won’t have problems getting it. If it’s a problem, I wouldn’t mind fighting in Europe, Brazil, Canada or China. Anywhere.
Another factor that affects the careers of many Russian fighters is the fact that they don’t speak English. How well do you know English?
I know some English. I’m not fluent, but this is one of my goals. This year I decided to dedicate to learning English. I understand how important it is. It’s part of the game. Nobody wants to see boring fighters. You have to stay relevant. If you want to stay relevant, you have to speak English. So soon you’ll hear me speaking English.
What about your social media? We know that you are pretty active on Instagram. Do you plan to become active on Twitter as well?
That’s another part. As well as learning English it’s on my radar as well. I’m taking it step by step. The first goal was to sign the contract, the second goal is to learn the language. Then I’ll get to my social media and other things. It’s all important and I understand that.
Many Russian fighters say that they don’t support trash talking and provoking your opponents before the fight, because it’s not part of the mentality of people in Russia. But you were among very few fighters who were known for being provocative towards your opponents while fighting in the ACB. Should UFC fighters expect the same sort of behavior from you?
Of course they’ll get their portion of my attention. I’ll be fighting abroad, against Brazilians, Americans, and all other guys. I’m not going there to become an easy target for them. So I won’t let them put any sort of pressure on me.
You spend a lot of time training in the Tiger Muay Thai training camp in Thailand. Have you met any of the UFC fighters there? Maybe even sparred with some of them?
Fighters from Russia mostly – Mairbek Taisumov, Zubaira Tukhugov. Of course I’ve sparred with them. But I haven’t met my possible opponents, if that’s what you want to know.
You’re known for your good striking technique and ability to switch stances during the fight. But you also have a good takedown defense and you seem to be comfortable on the ground. What aspects of the fight do you think you need to develop the most?
All of them! This sport is developing every day, and you can’t miss out on anything. So I need to work hard on all the aspects.
We know that in the past you’ve visited Dagestan to work on your wrestling. Do you have plans to go there again?
Yes, of course. And hopefully I’ll visit Dagestan many times more.
You live in Omsk, which is also the home of former Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko. Have you ever trained together?
Not much. Maybe once or twice. He has his own gym and team (Storm School), and I represent my gym (Alexander Nevsky). First I was doing boxing training in this gym, then after they started to train people in mixed martial arts, I switched to MMA. And we were moving together. Plus they saw that I had some potential, and they wanted me to represent our gym. That’s why we don’t really train together. But we have good relations.
You live and train in Omsk, but you were born in another Siberian city, Krasnoyarsk. Which city do you consider your home? And which city do you represent?
I represent Omsk. This is where I graduated from school, it’s where most of my friends are from. This is where I graduated from university, where I studied the theory of boxing. So I consider Omsk my home.
How important is it for you to represent Siberia. Because you’ll be the first native Siberian fighter in the UFC, excluding Dennis Siver, who was also born in Omsk.
Yes, I’ll represent Siberia with pride. And I know that I’ll be the first UFC fighter from Siberia. Talking about Dennis Siver… that guy doesn’t count. He didn’t represent Siberia (laughing). The guy even changed his name to be more German (his birth name is Dmitry – RT). How can we count him as a Siberian?
Given that you live in Siberia, what sort of hobbies do you have? Is it hunting or any other sort of outdoor activities?
I love all kind of outdoor activities. Riding snowmobiles, or just hiking, visiting lakes and so on. Going to the banya (Russian sauna) with my friends. All sorts of healthy activities. I just love spending time with my friends and family.
by Denis Geyko for RT Sport