FORTALEZA, Brazil — Rani Yahya doesn’t think he’s too far from a shot at the UFC bantamweight title.
Entering his 19th fight under the UFC and WEC banner on Saturday night, facing Joe Soto at the UFC Fight Night 106 card in Fortaleza, Brazil, Yahya, unbeaten since cutting back down to bantamweight in 2014, believes that he could be two fights away from facing the best in the world.
"It won’t take too long,” Yahya told MMA Fighting of a shot at the UFC gold. "I think that two more fights is enough time. I think I just need an opportunity against someone who can take me to the top."
Cody Garbrandt, the current UFC bantamweight champion, will defend his title for the first time against T.J. Dillashaw, and former champion Dominick Cruz is right up there as well. Yahya, who praise their styles, is confident that none have ever faced a challenge like him.
“I believe so,” Yahya said when asked if he’s a bad match-up style-wise for the current and former champions. "Those three guys are strikers with background in wrestling. Their games are very similar. They trade a lot and go for takedowns to score points. Garbrandt has the biggest knockout power of the three. I think that a different style might work against them. I’ve never seen them fight against someone like me before."
Yahya enters UFC Fortaleza coming off four straight wins with a pair of submissions, and believes that Joe Soto could be his ticket to the top 15.
"He’s not in the top 15, but Soto fought for the UFC belt before, did a five-round fight with T.J. Dillashaw,” Yahya said, "so this win might take me to a position where I can demand someone in the ranking next. It’s a good fighter, a good opponent, a former title contender who has won two in a row, but at the same time it’s a good match-up for me.”
Soto tapped Chris Beal and Marco Antonio Beltran in his last UFC bouts, but going to the ground with a decorated grappler like Yahya is a whole different game.
"He likes to grapple, right?” Yahya said. "I think that when the fight starts, you can’t run away from your instincts. He has this wrestling background, this single leg takedown that I’ve seen many people defend, and I’ve seen that he like to work off his back as well. And that’s exactly my specialty."
"He has some strong positions,” he continued. "He finished Chris Beal after taking his back, and then he fought this Mexican guy and tapped him with a heel hook. I could see he’s good at it. I’ve studied him a lot so I won’t be surprised."