Rani Yahya has only lost one of eight fights since moving down to bantamweight for the first time since his WEC days, but still thinks he hasn’t been given the attention he deserves. At UFC Lincoln, he plans on doing more to guarantee it happens.
The jiu-jitsu ace is set to face Luke Sanders in the Fight Night’s curtain-jerker Saturday night in Nebraska, and admits that not being too vocal before and after his most recent wins in the UFC, submitting Russell Doane and Henry Briones, has hurt him.
”I think what’s missing is me going there and talking, challenging someone from the top so I can climb the ladder in the UFC,” Yahya told MMA Fighting. “I don’t think it’s talking trash — that does help — but to embrace the opportunity of having the microphone in my hands, the whole world watching, and calling someone out, or people quickly forget about you.”
A one-time title contender in WEC, Yahya is not yet ranked in the top 15 despite a good run in the division since 2014, but he targets the top of the division. He won’t specifically say a name he plans on calling out after UFC Lincoln just yet, but makes it clear that he wants a top-10 foe.
”There are a bunch of good guys out there,” Yahya said. “I think Aljamain Sterling, who I ended up not fighting in the past, is an interesting one. There’s Jimmie Rivera, there’s (Cody) Garbrandt, who’s not in the title picture anymore after losing twice. All of them.”
Nothing will matter if he doesn’t get the job done inside the cage, though, so his first focus is on taking care of Sanders.
After a 10-week camp at American Top Team, his longest training camp outside of Brazil, the Brazilian bantamweight feels he has “evolved a lot during this camp” because he had “plenty of time to learn new techniques and add them to my game.”
“(Sanders) is a wrestler and a boxer, but his wrestling and boxing are no big deal,” Yahya said. “He definitely has heavy hands, knockout power, but I think his main characteristic is cardio and strength. That’s what caught my attention, but again, no big deal, nothing that I haven’t seen before.”
Like pretty much every fighter who enters the Octagon to battle the grappling wizard, Yahya has “no doubts” that Sanders will avoid the ground game at all costs.
”Most of the people I fight come prepare for that, so I have to have a strategy ready to overcome it,” Yahya said. “I had several great coaches at ATT to get me ready to deal with that situation. But I’ve only mentioned what he’s good at, and he definitely has plenty of weaknesses, too.
”I’m one of the fighters that gets hit the lowest in the UFC, my face is always clean after a fight. I don’t think he will have the opportunity to hit me that much. I know how to defend myself and neutralize his attacks.”
The one time Sanders faced Brazilian opposition in the UFC he was dominating veteran Iuri Alcantara before allowing an incredible comeback submission win for “Marajo.” Yahya recognizes his opponent’s value, but says he’s too reckless.
”He makes mistakes,” Yahya said. “He was in complete advantage in his fight against ‘Marajo,’ even had a 10-8 round, and all of a sudden ‘Marajo’ did a somersault and submitted him with a kneebar. It was no different in another fight he lost, too. He comes forward too recklessly and makes a mistake. You know that when you’re fighting a jiu-jitsu guy any mistake is deadly. I plan on capitalizing on that.”
If successful in submitting Sanders at UFC Lincoln, Yahya will tie with Uriah Faber’s record for most submission victories in the UFC/WEC bantamweight history (seven). With “The California Kid” retired, he thinks it’s just a matter of time.
”That’s definitely something I’m interested in,” Yahya said. “Faber is already retired, and records are made to be broken.”