A year removed from a lackluster win over Masanori Kanehara, Rani Yahya wanted to impress UFC president Dana White against undefeated prospect Matthew Lopez at UFC Fight Night 91. Not only the fight delivered Wednesday night, Yahya pulled out his seventh submission victory under the Zuffa banner.
"He started strong, ready to really rip my head off," Yahya told MMA Fighting after the fight. "He has a lot of first-round finishes, so I had to be ready and counter with punches. My hand landed a few times. It was a nice fight that had a bit of everything. I punched, kicked, threw knees and elbows, some ground and pound. Submission attempts from both sides. The thing that made me happy is that I showed a great conditioning, too. I gassed in previous fights, but this time I was in great shape and was able to tap him in the third round.
"These wrestlers don’t like to play guard or anything like that. They come back up right away, and they are good at it. I really needed to fight like a real MMA fighter, not like a jiu-jitsu fighter, to win. I used a lot of elbows to hurt him and get close to the submission. I made a few mistakes, lost a few positions, but it was part of the process."
Yahya is one of the most decorated grapplers in MMA, but Lopez came close to tapping the Brazilian during the contest. Or did he?
"I was fine," Yahya said. "It was a dangerous situation, but the fact that he kept trying to submit me was good because he was willing to fight where I wanted. Not that it’s good to be in risky situations, he had the merits to get to those positions, but it was great because he was confident enough to grapple with me."
To make his night even better, Yahya says that he almost pocketed a $50,000 bonus for the best fight of the night. He didn’t expect Tony Ferguson and Lando Vannata to steal the show in the co-main event, though.
"(UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby liked the fight, and even mentioned that I could win the ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus," Yahya said, "but Tony Ferguson and that other guy gave me no chance [laughs]."
Undefeated after four fights as a bantamweight, Yahya wants to return to action on Sept. 24, when the UFC makes its return to Brazil. The promotion has yet to officially announce a city and venue for the event, but rumors indicating that it could take place at Yahya’s hometown gets him excited.
The grappling ace competed in 19 different cities throughout his 31-fight career, but only once in Brasilia. If he gets the chance to perform in front of his fans one more time, Yahya expects to be matched up against a top contender in the 135-pound division.
"I believe they will give me someone better ranked now," Yahya said. "I told them I wanna fight in Brasilia, my hometown. It will be awesome to fight there. I’ve fought all over the world for a long time, and it’s not easy to take three flights, adapt to different time zones, different weathers, and stay away from home. I really want to fight in Brasilia now.
"I will fight whoever they want," he continued. "I won’t say a name, because it might sound that I don’t want to fight someone else. I’ll fight anyone, but I won’t say names. Put me against a good challenge and I’ll be ready."