At UFC Vegas 71 former champion and long-suffering Bantamweight contender Petr Yan faced off against Georgian workhorse Merab Dvalishvili. What many suspected may be a return to form for Yan showed to be his most decisive loss to date, as Merab bullied the divisional boogyman for 25 minutes straight.
'Downloading Data' is the term coined to describe Petr Yan's high risk, high reward strategy of starting slow in order to make reads. Yan will keep his guard raised and strike at a slower pace in order to make his opponents react and work. After the initial 5 minutes, Yan has often learned enough to begin to build a series of counters and nasty leads.
The flaw in this gambit is that to learn a series of patterns comfortably, Yan needs his opponents to fight at his pace. Yan is hard to put away and so very rarely will opponents open the first round fast, unlikely blow him out of the water early à la Garbrandt. Starting at a frantic pace also poses issues for one's cardio later in the fight (where Yan tends to be at his strongest). As a result, most fighters concede to an opening round at Yan's pace, doing just enough to win it but suffering for it as Yan clunks into gear.
Pace And Pressure
Unfortunately for Yan, Merab Dvalishvili is not most fighters. A boundless gas tank allows him to stay in his opponent's face from the first to the final second, maintaining confidence and skill throughout. This was a nightmare for Petr Yan who was unable to shake the ever-bullish Georgian. Incapable of effectively making reads, Yan was overwhelmed by the pure pace and pressure that Merab administered. When Yan would find the opportune moment to plant himself and deliver a hard shot, Merab remained unflappable and continued to burst forwards. Merab's striking game was built mainly on confidence, being the inferior striker on paper yet able to hang with a consensus great purely by being unwilling to yield to Yan's preferred style.
Betrayed By Defence
As a wrestler, Merab does his best work when he's up close and personal in the clinch or on the ground. However, Yan's impressive takedown defence and scrambling ability was going to pose problems for Merab. This would not be a lay & pray fight, however much that would benefit Merab. Instead, Merab would be required to exploit Yan's tendencies and be ready to shoot ten times if only to put Yan down once.
Yan's tendency to engage in handfights is one that Sean O'Malley exploited to occupy the hands and land big shots over Yan's reach. A similar approach to different ends was used by Merab, popping out noncomittal jabs to Yan's lead hand in order to draw it out. Once Yan's hand was away from his body (importantly, his hips) Merab would have a much higher chance at success on his takedowns, with Yan's hands having to travel further to stuff it. It must be reiterated that whilst Merab would have adored large portions of control and damage on the ground, it wasn't integral as it was for his teammate and current champion Aljamain Sterling. Merab's takedowns were a means of overwhelming Yan, keeping him unable to build and giving Merab dominant positions in the clinch where he could wear Yan down with knees.
Striking With The Best
Handfights weren't the only lesson that Merab took from O'Malley. Yan's high guard was pierced nicely by O'Malley with strikes down the middle. Whilst O'Malley relied on his range advantage to get this done, Merab managed to land jabs, straights and uppercuts at will by virtue of staying in Yan's face constantly. Once Yan's eye had swollen whether by the multitude of jabs he'd taken or an unfortunate clash of heads (likely both), Yan was a man fighting on instinct. Throwing reactively, Yan was forced to jab or crash in with hooks as Merab lead the exchanges, rarely finding his mark. As these exchanges were less loaded, Merab found success working with elbows over the guard from within close range without much fear of a clean counter coming back.
With Credit To Petr Yan
Whilst this bout was a wash so far as the scorecards are concerned, Yan provided some ideas which may have paid dividends if not for Merab's resilience. Yan was insistent on hurting Merab's body with punches and kicks. Working an opponent's body is a great way to slow them down and take a toll on their gas tank, yet Merab showed no signs of slowing.
Yan also looked to engage in wrestling exchanges on his own terms, attempting to put Merab on his back, banking minutes of control and damage. Whilst these proved mostly unsuccessful or uneventful, the idea of wrestling a wrestler has seen some shine in Volkanovski vs Islam or Usman vs Edwards. Taking away the one sided nature of an area your opponent expects to dominate provides some mental hangups and forces them to work defensively, something they may not be so well prepared for.
It's undeniable that Petr Yan is now in a bad spot. On a 3 fight losing streak and seemingly well figured out by his fellow contenders, Yan must adapt and grow as a fighter to regain the title. With Chito Vera losing to Cory Sandhagen at UFC San Antonio, a bout between these two would be a delight.
Perhaps in an even tougher spot is Merab Dvalishvili. With his close friend Aljamain Sterling holding the Bantamweight crown, he has done everything required to earn a title shot yet understandably refuses to take it. Until Sterling vacates or loses the title, Merab will be forced to cling onto that newly minted #1 contender status as new forces rise up through the division. The fight game is not a kind one and if Merab waits too long without action, he risks wasting his prime playing second fiddle, a tragedy for a fighter with Merab's natural talents. If Sterling successfully defends against Henry Cejudo and remains at the top of the division, Cory Sandhagen vs Merab Dvalishvili would be a fascinating bout.
Top comments (2)
Who coined this? Great read, who'd have thought Yan would be on a 3 fight losing streak after looking so dominant before than knee.
Surprise surprise mother fuckers, the king is back 👑