Merab Dvalishvili might just be the best bantamweight in the world without a title belt around his waist after he shutout ex-champion Petr Yan in dominant fashion in the UFC Las Vegas main event.
Over five rounds, Dvalishvili set a record with 48 takedown attempts over 25 minutes as he just kept putting pressure on Yan and never giving the Russian a second to breathe. Dvalishvili mixed in some heavy boxing combinations on the feet and then gave Yan headaches all night long with a relentless wrestling attack that helped him secure the victory.
When it was over all three judges scored the fight 50-45 as Dvalishvili picked up the biggest win of his career.
“It was very personal for me but I tried so hard to keep it professional,” Dvalishvili said after his win. “Now, I show the world. Petr called me zero — who’s zero now? Who’s zero?
“Only hard round I have is Aljamain Sterling, the real champion. My team knows, my style is difficult. I’m hungry! Let’s go!”
It was a punishing performance from Dvalishvili as he displayed unreal conditioning and a pace that would be hard for marathon runners to keep up with over five rounds.
The strategy from Dvalishvili was no secret as he continuously looked for takedowns, which kept Yan from really setting up his strikes because he always had be wary that the Georgian was going to be hunting for his legs. Dvalishvili was also displaying some crisp boxing early that appeared to catch Yan off guard as the former bantamweight champion tried to find his footing.
Yan did fire back with some stiff calf kicks that left a noticeable red welt growing on Dvalishvili’s leg.
In return, Dvalishvili decided to focus some of his attention on his own calf kicks as well with one particular shot landing with a sickening thud that made Yan immediately switch stances. With a leg potentially compromised, Yan was trying to find a way to turn the tables but Dvalishvili was just relentless with his forward pressure.
While Yan was able to fight off many of Dvalishvili’s takedowns, he couldn’t really produce much offense of his own in return. Dvalishvili just gave him no time or space to create anything as he kept coming after Yan with a mix of strikes and wrestling.
Down on the scorecards, Yan had to know he was reaching desperation time as the fight moved into the championship rounds but he was still trying to find an opening to really hurt Dvalishvili. Compounding matters was Yan suffering some significant swelling over his right eye, which proved Dvalishvili’s punches were doing damage.
With five minutes remaining, Yan was running out of time to do anything to pull off the comeback while Dvalishvili just kept dishing out more of the same. Dvalishvili just kept pressing forward, throwing punches and looking for takedowns.
There was a moment late in the final round where Dvalishvili brought the fight to the ground again and it looked like Yan’s spirit was just broken. As soon as the horn sounded, Dvalishvili threw his hands in the air in celebration after recognizing that he was about to earn a hard-fougth victory over one of the best 135-pound fighters in the world.
In any other scenario, Dvalishvili would probably be looking at a title shot next but he’s made it clear that he won’t go for the title so long as his friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling is still the reigning UFC bantamweight champion.
That doesn’t mean Dvalishvili is giving up on the belt but rather biding his time.
“He’s my brother and he’s the real champion,” Dvalishvili said about Sterling. “Whenever he decides to go up in weight class to fight for the next challenge, whoever will be there, then after I will fight for the title. Of course, I want to be champion. Now I proved it again! I’m hungry!”