UFC bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili enters his first main event in the promotion at UFC Las Vegas this Saturday, where he takes on former bantamweight champion Petr Yan.
It’s the sort of fight that would normally be looked at as a title eliminator, though Dvalishvili (15-4) has remained steadfast in his refusal to fight teammate Aljamain Sterling, the UFC’s current 135lb champion.
Yan, a former champion in the weight class, hails from Russia, and that in itself is part of the motivation fuelling Dvalishvili as he seeks out his ninth straight victory inside the octagon.
“This is not only fight, this is personal for me. He’s from Russia, I’m from Georgia. We all know Russia, what they’re doing to Ukraine now, what they did to Georgia,” Dvalishvili said at this week’s UFC Las Vegas media day. “Russia’s politics, [they’re] not a democratic country. I want to win for my people. I have so much support from my country, and so much support from Ukraine too.”
The Georgian know as “The Machine” recognizes Yan’s talents, but also sees the Russian as deficient on a human level.
“Petr is a great fighter, he’s a former champion. We all know he’s tough, as a fighter he’s a great fighter. He’s dangerous, and he don’t have holes anywhere. He’s a good striker, he does wrestling good, his cardio’s good. This is my toughest fight,” Dvalishvili admitted.
“I think he’s a great fighter, good family guy but he’s not a humble guy, and not a great human I think,” Merab continued. “Doesn’t matter how good a fighter you are, you have to be a good person, you have to treat people well. And I don’t care if you’re a good fighter or not, I just want [you] to be a good man, for people to give good example to other people.”
For Dvalishvili, some of that criticism stems from a bet between the two that Yan lost and allegedly did not pay — “he’s a f*cking liar and a piece of sh*t.” There’s also some bad blood left over from the illegal knee Yan used in his first fight with Aljamain Sterling.
“He’s cheated, when he was champion he didn’t know the rules, and he disrespected my friend. He didn’t use his platform when he was champion, he wasn’t doing any charity or humble things. I don’t think he’s a good guy.”
Dvalishvili later summed things up by saying “I just want to win against him. Like I said, make him humble. Because he’s cocky, a Russian bully, and I don’t like that.”
Watch the full UFC Las Vegas media day appearance by Merab Dvalishvili above.