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Adrian Yanez reflects on emotional first win after death of longtime coach: ‘He was like my father figure’

Saturday’s UFC Vegas 43 event marked a bittersweet night for Adrian Yanez.

On one hand, the UFC bantamweight prospect surged to his fourth consecutive win under the UFC umbrella and fourth post-fight bonus for his Fight of the Night performance over Davey Grant. On the other hand, however, it was an emotional night for Yanez, who competed for the first time since the death of his longtime head coach Saul Soliz.

“It really sucked,” Yanez said Monday on The MMA Hour. “It really, really sucked. It’s been a really long training camp. It was a roller-coaster of a training camp just due to the fact that I’m so used to seeing my coach there. I’m so used to just walking into the gym and just seeing Saul. Even the little quirky jokes that he would make, or just the little advice that he would give, and just everything. I miss it. And this one was hard because he wasn’t there.”

To call Soliz an icon of the Houston mixed martial arts scene would be an understatement. The former head trainer at Metro Fight Club, Soliz coached a laundry list of Hall of Fame names over his nearly two decades in the game, helping the likes of Tito Ortiz, Cris Cyborg, Quinton Jackson, Mark Coleman, and more. In recent years, Yanez emerged as one of Soliz’s most promising young athletes. The two worked together since Yanez’s amateur days, with Soliz guiding Yanez from the regional circuit to the sport’s biggest stage.

Sadly, Soliz passed away in August at the age of 55 due to complications with COVID-19. And his presence was never far from Yanez’s thoughts throughout fight week in Las Vegas.

“It was in the back of my mind the whole entire fight, just him not [being] there,” Yanez said. “Every time I went to my corner, I always have conversations with my coach. It would never be him just coaching me through it. I’d ask him a question or we’d be having a back-and-forth conversation in the corners. And this time, it was different. And I had my training partners with me who have been with me through thick and thin, but it just wasn’t the same.

“So the last 30 seconds [of the fight], I was doing my best to just be like, ‘Just get through these 30 seconds, just 30 seconds.’ And after that, the bell rang, hugged Davey, and I wanted to walk around with my hands up, but I just sat down. And the doctor thought there was something wrong with me, but I was just like, ‘I just need a moment. I can’t.’ I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. All the emotions that I had, it just fell out. I couldn’t contain myself.”

Yanez’s three-round battle with Grant wasn’t the first time he fought without Soliz in his corner. The Houston legend was actually diagnosed with COVID-19 days before Yanez and his team were set to fly to Las Vegas to fight Randy Costa in July. At the time, Yanez assumed that Soliz would be OK. He was always so strong, Yanez figured that this time would be no different. Unfortunately, a much more difficult reality awaited.

To make matters worse, Soliz’s abrupt passing hit Yanez even harder because it was the second death of a father figure that Yanez had suffered in the last few years.

Yanez’s own father tragically passed away in 2016, and from that point on, Yanez said Soliz stepped up to help fill that void in his life.

“That made your whole month if he ever gave you a compliment,” Yanez said. “And then on top of that, he was just such a good person. After my dad passed away, he knew that I needed something, so he gave me a job. He hired me on as an assistant, he made sure I was at the gym, he always made sure that I was doing the right things. He did a lot of things for me, and not even just for myself — I ended up finding out after he passed, so much of the other stuff that he did for other people.

“It was just kind of built in his character and he was just a good person overall,” Yanez continued. “Like for me, he didn’t have me pay any gym dues whenever I was coming up. From amateur to pro, he never made me pay a single dime in gym fees or coach fees or anything like that. And that says something, and I never took his time for granted.

“He’s been my role model, and after my dad passed away, he was like my father figure.”

The last few months have been a blur for Yanez. After Soliz’s death, the 27-year-old UFC fighter stepped up on his own to help keep the Metro Fight Club team together. Overnight, he turned into a makeshift coach for many of the team’s other fighters, then was booked immediately into the Grant fight, for which he said he essentially had to run his own camp. Yanez did all of it while balancing the upcoming birth of his first child, the purchase of his first home, and the grief he was left to comprehend in the wake of Soliz’s passing.

So now that UFC Vegas 43 is behind him, Yanez said he hopes to take some time away from the fight game for himself, for his own healing process to begin.

“In 2016, I lost my father. And this year, I lost a father figure,” Yanez said. “So it sucks. It really brought me down, and that’s another reason why I’m trying to take some time off right now after this fight, so to make sure I get my mental health and everything else, and kind of just deal with everything. Because honestly, I still haven’t dealt with it.”