After several near-altercations and a throat chop in the lead-up to UFC Las Vegas, Merab Dvalishvili believes he’s humbled ex-champ Petr Yan.
“He should take a lesson,” said Dvalishvili at the post-fight press conference after dominating Yan bell to bell in Saturday’s headliner. “He should not look over others. He was looking over others, now see what happens.”
Dvalishvili made the fight very personal, calling out his Russian counterpart for a variety of alleged misbehaviors. He raised the stakes by adding geopolitics to the mix, bringing up the war in Ukraine and his experience under Russian bombs as a teenager in Georgia. Then Yan surprised him — and UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby — by getting unneccessarily physical at the weigh-ins.
“After this, I was like, ‘This guy’s really stupid, and he’s a bully,’” Dvalishvili said. “I should just do my thing, and after that thing, it made me a little more calm. It doesn’t make sense.”
When the two finally met in the octagon, Dvalishvili was determined to stand and strike with the fighter most considered to be a superior striker. But in the end, it was his wrestling that stymied the ex-champ and led to a shutout on judges’ scorecards.
Fighters most often bury the hatchet in the moments after the fight, and Dvalishvili gave Yan his respect. It didn’t change his opinion of his opponent’s character, though.
“I’m a winner today,” he said. “It’s OK. Maybe he’s a good guy. I think this loss will make him think more, he will respect other fighters, and he was thinking before he is the best, and he is No. 1, and I am zero. It’s not like this. We’re all human, and nobody’s perfect. You should not treat people like this. You should respect everybody. He didn’t respect me before, but now, he will respect me.”
Dvalishvili set a new UFC record for takedown attempts, trying 49 times to put Yan on the mat. Though the majority were unsuccessful, they kept Yan off balance enough to limit offense, and eventually, the Russian’s gas tank emptied.
“I was just worried that I was going to show up,” Dvalishvili said. “I wanted to show up and not have any accidents happen, and I had extra pressure to represent my country, my people, my team, and we were working so hard. I want to represent good. I don’t care about losing other fights against whoever, but losing against him, I should kill myself or something.
“He’s a great fighter, but he’s a little bit cocky. I love fighters because they’re all humble and good people, and I don’t think this guy is a very good guy.”
The path for Dvalishvili gets more complicated now that he’s defeated another former champion — his second after ex-featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo — and is best friends with current champ Aljamain Sterling. If Sterling moves up to featherweight after a title defense against Henry Cejudo at UFC 288, a conflict could be avoided.
If Sterling decides to stay at bantamweight, however, Dvalishvili is ready to take extreme measures by fighting at flyweight.
“It will be a tough cut, but it’s possible,” he said. “Right now, I’m comfortable at 135, and I don’t want to make any changes right now. It’s possible, because I cut only 20 pounds. I do my old style where I don’t do hot tub, I don’t water load, I just do my thing, and I make weight. It’s possible for me to make 125, but I don’t see why I should do it now.
“I’ll fight anybody,” he added. “I want to be busy and I will fight anybody. Whoever UFC chooses me to fight. I don’t have any problem. This is a good problem to have – to best friends and teammates. My best friend is champion, and I’m one of the top [fighters]. We are cleaning the division. That’s a good feeling.”