The grudge match that had been brewing all week long (and really, for months before that) finally boiled over at the UFC Las Vegas weigh-ins on Friday, with Petr Yan lashing out at Merab Dvalishvili.
Georgia’s Dvalishvili had cited Russian aggression, Yan’s feud with Merab’s own teammate Aljamain Sterling, and a bet he accused the ex-champ’s pal Anatoly Malykhin of welching on as just some of the factors behind his disdain for Yan. The Russian, in turn, claimed that “no one” cared about Dvalishvili, who had built up an eight-fight win streak heading into the night.
Regardless of who cared or not, Merab Dvalishvili was entering his first UFC main event at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, territory the former champ was well-accustomed to. And he made a statement on Saturday night.
Yan declined a glove touch prior to the action getting underway, though Merab did offer. Once the horn sounded, it was Merab right into a takedown, putting Yan on his knees and peppering him with strikes. Yan was quickly back up, and Dvalishvili was right back on him. This time, Yan stayed standing, but he was warned in due course by ref Herb Dean for having his fingers extended.
Another Dvalishvili takedown attempt followed, stuffed by Yan. Yan landed a kick to the body; the “Machine” launched into a takedown, getting a hold of Yan only for the ex-champ to break free. Another takedown attempt showed some impressive balance by Yan, but Merab also connected with a right hand moments later. Yan fired a low kick, but Merab’s own buckled Yan, who then had to fend off another takedown attempt — but landed a blow off the break. Ref Dean again warned Yan for having his fingers extended.
Flipping the script, Yan shot a takedown in the final minute of the round, but Dvalishvili easily reversed and finished the frame in control.
Yan went to the body to open the second, after a strong opening frame by Dvalishvili. Merab then shot a takedown, dragging down Yan momentarily before he scrambled up. A pair of leg kicks had Yan backing up, and Merab fired several step-in elbows as Yan covered up. Yan’s mobility was definitely hampered, and Dvalishvili changed levels and powered through a double-leg takedown, planting Yan with authority.
Yan, to his credit, escaped back up, and fought off the next takedown attempt. The Russian then caught a kick and dumped Dvalishvili on his back with just under two minutes remaining in the second stanza. It was Merab quickly back up and reversing against the fence, however.
Through two rounds, Merab Dvalishvili had set the pace and led the attack. Yan looked to change that early in the third, attacking Merab’s legs. An exchange followed, and Dvalishvili pursued a takedown that was fought off. He backed Yan up to the fence, firing an elbow as Yan covered up. Yan did fight off the takedown, and another moments later. Yan was firing wide; Dvalishvili came up short on a takedown, but had a body lock two minutes in, battling Yan against the fence. Yan reversed, only for Merab to defend, briefly flashing a guillotine. Chasing Yan to the other side of the cage, he was back on Yan, who simply could not shake the Georgian, who finally dragged Yan down.
Catching a Yan kick, Dvalishvili kicked Yan’s leg out from under him. His wrestling was explosive, smothering, and dominant; Yan freed himself and got back to range at the end of the third, but he was trailing in the fight, being ragdolled by Merab.
The bantamweight pair traded kicks early in round four, before Dvalishvili tied up Yan with a body lock and took him down. Yan would escape and reverse, leaning on Dvalishvili — who used some open palm strikes to bother Yan. Yan’s eye was showing some swelling, and he pawed at it, clearly bothered. Dvalishvili, if somewhat slowed in the fourth, still pushed the pace, dictating the fight.
Late in the round, Dvalishvili brought back the calf kick, and peppered Yan with strikes. In a round that played out mostly on the feet, Merab Dvalishvili was still winning.
Round five left Petr Yan in need of a finish. Being charitable, he might have stolen a round, maybe the third, on the scorecards. Realistically, Dvalishvili hadn’t lost a round. He piled on with the wrestling early, taking Yan to the fence while Matt Serra hollered from his corner to “knee him again!” Time was now a factor for Petr Yan, who didn’t appear able to break free of the Georgian. When he finally did, there were just three minutes left in the round.
Punching his way in, Dvalishvili changed levels and landed another big takedown. Yan worked back to his feet, grounding himself to keep Merab off him. At range, Merab continued to hold his own, and came forward with step-in elbows. Merab put Petr Yan on his knees with 90 seconds to go; Yan looked up as if questioning how things had gotten to this point. Back up, and Dvalishvili landed a big right hand.
Dvalishvili never let up until the final bell. Yan never had an answer. He won’t fight teammate Aljo, but Merab Dvalishvili made a statement at UFC Las Vegas: he is a force to be reckoned with.
Official Result: Merab Dvalishvili def. Petr Yan by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45)