Petr Yan had a tumultuous 2022, to say the least. Having lost his belt via disqualification to Aljamain Sterling the year prior, Yan had managed to bounce back and claim the interim strap in a highly entertaining and impressive five-round war with Cory Sandhagen.
This left ‘No Mercy’ poised to pick up right where he had left off, being booked in a rematch with Sterling for the title in April of 2022. The Russian striker entered the fight as a massive favorite, with many writing off Sterling’s chance of victory. However, the ‘Funk Master’ defied expectations, and was able to claim a split decision win over Yan.
In October, Yan returned to the octagon, taking on rising superstar, Sean O’Malley. Once again, Yan was a big favorite, and once again, he came up short, despite giving an excellent account of himself. Now, nearly two years removed from his time as champion, Petr Yan is taking on yet another killer in the bantamweight division.
At UFC Vegas 71, Merab Dvalishvili will take on the former champ (per Las Vegas Review-Journal), looking to cement himself as a top contender at 135lbs. Dvalishvili is riding a six-fight winning streak, having picked up wins over a number of impressive opponents, including Marlon Moraes, Cody Stamann, Casey Kenney, and most recently, Jose Aldo Jr.
The fight promises a classic striker vs. wrestler matchup. It also represents a lifeline for Petr Yan, who has previously hinted at an exit from the UFC, whilst simultaneously representing the stairway to title contention for Merab Dvalishvili.
Admittedly, Dvalishvili’s path is a little more complicated than it may initially seem. The Georgian wrestler is close friends and teammates with the current champ, Aljamain Sterling, with both men repeatedly stating that they never would each other. Whether Merab moves down to 125lbs, or Aljo moves up to featherweight remains to be seen.