UFC Las Vegas: Yan and Dvalishvili Look to Make Impact in Stacked 135 Picture

Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, UFC 259
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: (L-R) Petr Yan of Russia punches Aljamain Sterling in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 259 event at UFC APEX on March 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

As the bantamweight division takes center stage in March, former champion Petr Yan and surging contender Merab Dvalishvili collide with major title implications at UFC Las Vegas.

Former bantamweight champion Petr Yan must feel that the world in his metaphorical snow globe has been shaken up a bit.  After kicking off his career to a 15-1 start, “No Mercy” now finds himself on a 1-3 skid.  The fact that one of those losses was by his own error in a disqualification and the other was a ultra-competitive bout does nothing to fix the fact that for the first time since 2020 he is on the outside looking in at the title picture.  His status as a former champion with a fan-friendly has him in a high profile headliner, but more than before there is an onus to deliver another signature performance to re-establish himself as a major player for the belt.

To help his case, he has been given an opportunity to inject himself right back into the conversation.  His opponent is on an impressive win-streak and a victory would put Yan back on the short list for a title shot.  Furthermore, his recent fights with the likes of Cory Sandhagen and Sean O’Malley were exciting contests that only served to raise his profile and assure fans that while he may not have had his hand raised in recent contests, his skills have not fallen off and he remains a threat to anyone in the division.

Merab Dvalishvili has found himself painted into a corner in the loaded title picture.  His eight fight win-streak is on par with elite contenders across all weight classes, but he has gotten lost in the crowd amidst big personalities in Marlon “Chito” Vera and Sean O’Malley.  Furthermore, he and bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling have publicly reiterated that they will not fight each other due to their close friendship which has put his own title aspirations on the back-burner.  He has not shied away from staying active, now taking another dangerous fight despite recording a victory that would have earned him a title shot in any other weight class when he defeated former champion José Aldo last August.

His place in the division feels poised for immense heartbreak should he hit a setback before possibly challenging for gold.  While “The Machine” is hitting his stride now, his early UFC run saw him struggle to replicate his early career success.  After opening his professional career at 1-2, he put together a six fight win-streak (including a victory over current Bellator title holder Raufeon Stots) to get the call up to the UFC.  Dvalishvili would suffer losses in his first two bouts in the Octagon before slowly beginning his current run that has seen him best the likes of Marlon Moraes, John Dodson, Casey Kenney, and others.  After overcoming the growing pains of a developing fighter to now reach the top of the most competitive division in the UFC, a loss that derails his title hopes while he is in his prime would be devastating to say the least.

The winner will be in a great position in the title picture, but it is expected that all parties involved will remain gridlocked until the title is contested for in May.  Depending on the outcome of the title bout (at long last official) between Sterling and Henry Cejudo and the upcoming bout between Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen at the end of the month, this Saturday’s winner could conceivably find themselves in a title shot or even a title eliminator later this year.