Hot streak: Can Russian standout Petr Yan keep his winning run alive at UFC 238?
The 26-year-old Russian fighter has had an impressive debut year inside the octagon. Four men have been tasked with attempting to curb his rise through the bantamweight rankings and all four have failed. On Saturday, though, Yan will face down his sternest challenge to date, when he tangles in Chicago with top contender Jimmie Rivera, winner of 22 of his 25 bouts thus far in his career.
How this fight transpires inside the UFC's eight-sided cage will go a long way towards proving (or indeed disproving) the pre-fight hype focused squarely on Yan, in a bantamweight division that is wide open following the two-year suspension of former champ T.J. Dillashaw for being found to have ingested a performance-enhancing drug.Also on rt.com ‘The entire division is on notice’: Russia's Petr Yan tipped for big things after win at UFC Prague
And a convincing win against Rivera would go a long way to underscoring Yan's credentials, even on a card in which another pair of top bantamweight contenders, Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz, will clash.
"I want the next one to be for the title," Yan said to MMA Fighting's Eurobash podcast, via translation. "Sterling has never been in an exciting fight. I didn’t know [Munhoz] fought in the UFC for such a long time, I just saw his last fight, I didn’t even know that man existed in the division until his last fight. Obviously, that’s why I’m on the main card.
"I don’t know what the UFC will decide. It will be my fifth fight inside one year and it took these other guys a lot more fights to get to the same place in the division as me."
This point is hard to argue. Yan has displayed almost no weaknesses in his UFC run to date, save for a moment in which his last opponent, John Dodson, briefly stunned him with a punch, but even if that was the most mortal he has appeared in the cage to date, he was still awarded a unanimous decision victory.
However, the rankings aren't exactly on his side just yet. His first four wins have placed him in ninth position in the official standings at 135lbs, behind both Sterling and Munhoz, and regardless of what happens on Saturday night he will remain behind one, or both, of those fighters.
Nonetheless, Yan suggests that rankings are little more than ink on paper.
"Of course I’m ready for the title," he said emphatically. "I don’t care if it’s Cejudo or Moraes, I don’t see me lacking anything compared to them. There’s nothing special about them; of course I want to fight the winner of their fight.
"For all of my other UFC fights I didn’t even prepare that well. I didn’t have structured training, a head coach or anything like that. Honestly, I was preparing like an amateur. If I fight for the title, I’ll be making significant changes to my camp and that will make a difference too."
If, or more likely when, Petr Yan does compete for a UFC championship it will be a coronation of sorts, the manifestation of the whispered prophecy which had been suggested since his days on the Russian regional scene: that he was destined for the top.Also on rt.com Cool customer: Petr Yan chills out Russian-style after win at UFC Prague (VIDEO)
That, he says, will come but he doesn't want to appear arrogant in the face of the growing hype surrounding him.
"The UFC can count on me, and if they want me to be next, I'll never let them down, so I’ll do what I have to do."