Rani Yahya has racked up impressive numbers at bantamweight, losing only one of eight bouts in the division since 2014, but he has missed a push from the promotion. At UFC 234, Yahya thinks his time has finally come.
One of the most decorated grapplers to ever enter the Octagon, Yahya earned a spot on a pay-per-view main card for the first time in his career after three straight submissions. Taking on prospect Ricky Simon on Saturday night event in Melbourne, Australia, Yahya vows to rise to the occasion.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a while,” Yahya told MMA Fighting. “I’m winning, I’m submitting my opponents, and every time you finish a fight you hear promises that they will give you a platform to fly higher, and it’s finally happening.”
The Brazilian was only featured once on a main card before during his 15-fight run in the UFC, when he beat Mizuto Hirota in Japan almost six years ago. Back to the main card after going 8-2-0-1 in his following 11 appearances, Yahya hopes that fighting minutes before the highly anticipated return of Anderson Silva versus Israel Adesanya brings more eyeballs to his performance.
If he’s successful in scoring another win on Saturday, he thinks that a top 10 opponent should be his next logical step at bantamweight.
”This if the biggest fight of my career in terms of visibility,” Yahya said. “I’ll be fighting next to Anderson Silva, so I will fly higher with a win.”
Yahya is not the type of fighter to draw headlines with his pre- and post-post-fight interviews. Always very respectful towards his opponents and fellow fighters, Yahya lets his grappling do the talking inside the cage. However, Yahya understands the value to talking — and being properly promoted by the UFC — to make his rise quite easier.
The American Top Team talent is currently ranked at No. 15 in the UFC bantamweight class, while Thomas Almeida — 5-3 in the UFC and 1-3 in his last four — sits at No. 13. For Yahya, the sky is the limit “when the UFC machine embraces a fighter.”
“In Thominhas’ case, he was very young when he got in the UFC, he was knocking everyone out, and the UFC saw a big potential in him,” Yahya said. “In my case, I’ve been here for a long time and I see this fight as a new opportunity, a chance to show them I’m a new fighter after switching camps. I’m finally performing at my best, showing my true potential.”
Standing across the cage will be Simon, a former LFA champion who looks to add another victory to his seven-fight streak. The only blemish on Simon’s record came in a submission defeat against Brazilian bantamweight Anderson dos Santos in 2016, but Yahya expects a great match-up no matter where they go.
“I’m always ready for everything,” Yahya said. “I’m ready for a long three-round war or to knock him out in the first round. Everything I do in the gym always ends up with me going to the ground to use my jiu-jitsu. He’s a wrestler and he will go for a takedown eventually. His ground game is okay, but it’s more of a wrestling game with ground and pound instead of submissions. I believe he worked hard on submission defense, but we’re always ready to force them to make mistakes.
“I always see people calling me one dimensional, that I can’t strike, but if you look at my stats in the UFC, I had an advantage over everyone I fought except Chad Mendes, who took me down to avoid my striking. It’s hard to hit me, and I see myself knocking him out.”