Petr Yan was a 5-1 bantamweight prospect when he flew from Russia to Brazil to train at Nova Uniao for a few weeks. Four years later, “No Mercy” is booked to face that team’s biggest star for a UFC title on July 11 in Abu Dhabi.
Aldo was in camp for a UFC 200 rematch with Frankie Edgar when Yan arrived in Rio de Janeiro in May 2016. The Russian, coming off the only loss of his career at the time, was eager to learn from the Brazilian veteran, who also had an unbeaten streak snapped months prior by Conor McGregor.
Nova Uniao’s Eduardo Dantas was also in camp for a title bout, preparing to reclaim his 135-pound title from Marcos Galvao in Bellator, so having a tough prospect like Yan in the gym would definitely help.
“He trained a lot with us, especially me, because we’re both bantamweights,” Dantas told MMA Fighting. “He trained boxing and kickboxing, I haven’t seen him do much of ground game in the gym, but this kid always showed a lot of heart. He came from a different team, a different country, didn’t speak our language, but came here and put on great training sessions. He was always there to train, always available.”
“Dudu” recalls hanging out with Yan around the city and basically using “mimes” to overcome the language barrier and communicate. Dantas “grew up in the sport hearing people say you can’t comment training” so he won’t get into specifics about the sessions between Aldo and Yan, but is confident that Brazil will have another UFC champion when they collide for the vacant title at UFC 251.
“Based on the training I had with Yan and Aldo — we’re obviously in a different time now, four years later — you can’t compete them technically,” Dantas said. “I’ve seen so-called specialists say that Yan’s boxing and kickboxing are better than Junior’s. I think that’s a huge mistake because if you really analyse their boxing, it’s completely different.
“If you stop and look at the strikers they have fought, it’s completely different. If Yan fought one guy that is tough on the feet, that’s already too much. You can’t compare. Yan might be younger, he’s coming fully motivated, he trains really hard, but you can’t compare them technique-wise. To me, Junior is way more complete.
“And about (them) training (together), you probably already know how it must have gone, right? Not to mention that Aldo was way heavier and way stronger. Yan weighed around 148 pounds when he came here, he was always skinny. You can’t compare.”
Yan was only six fights into his professional career at the time, whereas Aldo had 11 UFC and WEC championship bouts under his belt.
“You can’t compare how it was four years ago because Junior was on another level and Yan was still growing,” Dantas said. “You see Yan rising today, he has six UFC fights and won them all, always winning and getting better, but I’m sure that Aldo’s level of boxing can’t compare to Yan’s — and people will see it on July 11.”
The former UFC featherweight king only fought once in his career as a bantamweight, losing a close split decision to Marlon Moraes in December. UFC president Dana White scored it for Aldo, and decided to give him a shot at then-champion Henry Cejudo for the 135-pound belt.
When Aldo was pulled from the title fight on May 9 due to travel restrictions courtesy of the COVID-19 outbreak, former champion Dominick Cruz replaced him — and lost by knockout to “Triple C.” Cejudo announced his retirement immediately after his victory, opening the doors for a Aldo-Yan clash for the vacant throne.
“It’s a good matchup because Yan and Aldo move forward the whole time,” Dantas said. “My hunch is Junior knocks him out in the second round. If he doesn’t knock him out, it would be five rounds of suffering for Yan, getting beat up a lot. Of course that Yan has great cardio and Junior is rising… If I had to guess, I’d bet on Junior by second-round knockout.
“(Aldo) stayed unbeaten for 10 years, taking everyone down at featherweight with a really bad diet. He’s on a diet for the first time of his life now at bantamweight. He’s training more focused and eating way healthier. He went from water into wine. I’m not saying this because I’m his friend, I say this based on what I see in training, his cardio and his technique. It’s his destiny, he will be the bantamweight champion.”