LAS VEGAS — Seconds into his important bantamweight bout with Petr Yan, Merab Dvalishvili gave away his game plan: He pushed a relentless pace, using superior cardiovascular conditioning, to beat up the former champion and scored a dominant shutout victory at The Theater at the Virgin Hotels.
Dvalishvili’s nickname is “The Machine,” because he can go hard from beginning to end, but he took things to another level.
He was going for takedowns throughout, but also got the best of the striking exchanges and just pummeled Yan from beginning to end. It was 50-45 on all three cards and it wasn’t really that close.
Dvalishvili had a 147-75 edge in significant strikes landed, but it was the wrestling statistics that were the real eye opener in this fight. Dvalishvili landed 11 takedowns on an incredible 49 attempts, nearly two per minute, and he never stopped going for it. Yan was just 1-of-5 on takedowns.
Dvalishvili’s pace was devastating. He landed 202 of 401 total strikes and made Yan defend for the entire 25 minutes. Yan’s right eye was swollen shut by the midpoint of the third round from elbows in close Dvalishvili was throwing.
— UFC (@ufc) March 12, 2023
Yan had few moments of note in the bout and the best of them came as a result of him defending takedowns. His balance and defensive wrestling were, as usual, superb, but he mounted precious little offense.
Dvalishvili never gave him a moment to catch his breath or get his distance. He was on top of the Russian throughout and Yan simply couldn’t hold up to the pace that Dvalishvili set.
Dvalishvili, who is a teammate, training partner and a close friend of bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, beat Yan more clearly than either Sterling or Sean O’Malley did in Yan’s prior two fights. Yan lost split decisions to both of those men but he had his moments in each of them.
Saturday, he had little to offer Dvalishvili, who was bouncing and dancing in the ring like Clay Guida and seemed like he could have fought 10 rounds at the same pace.
The ease with which Dvalishivili dispatched Yan came as no surprise to Sterling, who fought Yan twice.
“Was I surprised by that? Not at all,” Sterling said. “Everybody makes [Yan] out to be this big monster, but he’s not all that.”
Yan was ranked No. 2 and Dvalishvili No. 3 heading into the fight, and Dvalishvili will clearly move up to No. 2 after this performance. Sterling and former double 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 fight to determine a No. 1 contender.
There is little doubt, though, 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 final fight.
He clearly established that he’s not only an elite contender in the division, but will be a handful for anyone to defeat if he fights as he did on Saturday.
He fought emotionally because he is from the Republic of Georgia and Yan is from Russia and the two countries don’t get along. He put pressure on himself before the fight by talking plenty of trash, but he was able to back it up.
He said he was motivated to win for multiple reasons, including as a way to show support from the Ukrainian people after Russia invaded it last year.
“Russia doesn’t want to be friendly with other countries,” Dvalishvili said. “ … Russia wants to be by themselves. They say, ‘If you go to NATO, we will kill you,’ and they start throwing bombs.”
The pressure on Dvalishvili increased when Yan hit him in the throat at Friday’s weigh-in. He said he called Yan a name after that, which he apologized for on Saturday, and knew he’d have to raise his game to another level.
He did just that with an amazing effort that was clearly championship-caliber.
The world’s geopolitical situation hung over Dvalishvili afterward. He poured his heart out as he spoke of his country, the support he received from his countrymen and Russia’s relationship with its neighbors.
“We cannot stop Russia but at least we can beat them in sport,” he said. “ … I hope this war stops and we can live in this world in peace.”