LAS VEGAS — Seconds after his all-important bantamweight bout with Petr Yan, Merab Dvalishvili unveiled his game plan: He pushed a relentless pace, using superior cardiovascular conditioning, to beat the former champion and claim a win. dominating shutout win at the Theater at the Virgin Hotels.
Dvalishvili’s nickname is “The Machine” because he can go rough from start to finish, but he took things to another level.
He was going for takedowns throughout, but also made the most of striking exchanges and just hit Yan from start to finish. It was 50-45 on all three cards and it wasn’t really that close.
Dvalishvili had a 147-75 advantage in important strikes, but it was the wrestling stats that were the real eye-opener in this fight. Dvalishvili landed an incredible 11 takedowns from 49 attempts, almost two per minute, and he never stopped going for it. Yan was only 1 of 5 for takedowns.
Dvalishvili’s pace was devastating. He landed 202 of 401 total strikes and had Yan defending for 25 minutes. Yan’s right eye was swollen midway through the third round due to Dvalishvili’s close elbows.
Yan had a few standout moments in the fight and the best of them came from defending the takedowns. His balance and defensive struggle were, as usual, superb, but he mounted a valuable little attack.
Dvalishvili never gave him a moment to catch his breath or distance himself. He was above the Russian throughout and Yan just couldn’t keep up with the pace set by Dvalishvili.
Dvalishvili, who is a teammate, sparring partner and close friend of bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, has beaten Yan more clearly than Sterling or Sean O’Malley in Yan’s previous two fights. Yan lost split decisions to both of these men, but he had his moments in each one.
On Saturday, he had little to offer Dvalishvili, who bounced and danced around the ring like Clay Guida and looked like he could fight 10 rounds at the same pace.
The ease with which Dvalishivili dispatched Yan came as no surprise to Sterling, who has fought Yan twice.
“Was I surprised by that?” Not at all,” Sterling said. “Everybody does [Yan] be this big monster, but he is not all that.
Yan was ranked No. 2 and Dvalishvili No. 3 before the fight, and Dvalishvili will clearly drop to No. 2 after this performance. Sterling and former two-time champion Henry Cejudo will fight for the title on May 6 at UFC 288 in Newark, New Jersey.
It might make sense for O’Malley and Dvalishvili to battle it out to determine a No. 1 candidate.
There is no doubt, however, that Dvalishvili is a threat to anyone in the division. Dvalishvili is coming off a one-sided win over Hall of Famer Jose Aldo, but he didn’t get full credit for that win at UFC 278 on Aug. 20 because it was Aldo’s last fight.
He’s made it clear that he’s not just an elite contender in the division, but will be tough to beat if he fights like he did on Saturday.
He fought emotionally because he is from the Republic of Georgia and Yan is from Russia and the two countries do not get along. He pressured himself before the fight by talking a lot of trash, but he was able to back it up.
He said he was motivated to win for several reasons, including to show the support of the Ukrainian people after Russia invaded last year.
“Russia doesn’t want to be friendly with other countries,” Dvalishvili said. “…Russia wants to be alone. They say, “If you go to NATO, we’ll kill you,” and they start throwing bombs.
The pressure on Dvalishvili increased when Yan punched him in the throat at Friday’s weigh-in. He said he called Yan a name after that, for which he apologized on Saturday, and knew he should take his game to another level.
He did just that with an incredible effort that was clearly championship caliber.
The global geopolitical situation weighed on Dvalishvili thereafter. He opened up about his country, the support it has received from its compatriots and Russia’s relations with its neighbours.
“We can’t stop Russia, but at least we can beat them in sport,” he said. “…I hope this war will stop and we can live in peace in this world.”