On Saturday, Mar. 11, the UFC finds a new landing spot in Las Vegas when UFC Fight Night: Yan vs. Dvalishvili takes place at The Theater at Virgin Hotels. In the main event, top bantamweight contenders collide as former divisional champ Petr Yan takes on third-ranked Merab Dvalishvili.
Yan won the title in Jul. 2020, but lost it in his first title defense after landing an illegal knee to the head of Aljamain sterling, resulting in a disqualification. He won his next fight against Cory Sandhagen for the interim title, before losing the unification bout to Sterling by a questionable split decision. The Russian lost another split decision to Sean O’Malley, so he badly needs a stoppage win over Dvalishvili to keep in title contention.
Georgia’s Dvalishvili, who trains out of New York alongside Sterling, started out his UFC career with back-to-back losses. He has since gone on an eight-fight winning streak with his last win coming against former longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo last August. There has been much speculation on whether or not he would eventually face his teammate for the title, but he needs to get past Yan first.
The co-main event features a heavyweight showdown between No. 8 Alexander Volkov and No. 14 Alexander Romanov. Volkov last fought in Jun. 2022, when he scored a TKO of Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Romanov last fought in August when he had his 16-fight unbeaten streak broken by a majority decision loss to Marcin Tybura. Both men will be looking for a statement win.
Other fights on the main card include a battle of top-10 light heavyweights between Ryan Spann and Nikita Krylov, a featherweight clash when Ricardo Ramos faces Austin Lingo, and a highly anticipated match-up between bantamweights Jonathan Martinez and Said Nurmagomedov.
UFC Fight Night: Yan vs. Dvalishvili airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 3 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Former bantamweight champion Petr Yan has lost three of his last four fights, all by a narrow margin; does he wind up on the right side of a decision this weekend against Merab Dvalishvili?
Sumian: Petr Yan should be the UFC bantamweight champion, and there is no argument about it. He has defeated Aljamain Sterling twice now, technically. His first loss was a silly disqualification, due to a lack of good judgment, and his second loss should have resulted in a unanimous decision victory for the former champion. To put it plain and simple, I don’t see a reality where Dbalishvili is able to take Yan down for five straight rounds and keep him there to win a boring unanimous decision.
Merab Dvalishvili is a top contender at bantamweight, plain and simple. When it comes to takedowns and ground control, there are few, if any, that are better than him at utilizing their dominant ground game to win fights over and over. His last two victories are both over out-of-prime competitors in Marlos Moraes and Jose Aldo. That hardly results in any confidence gained for his ability to defeat arguably the best bantamweight in the UFC. If he is able to take Yan down, and keep him there, then he certainly has a clear path victory. To do so convincingly, is a whole different story.
Yan has gotten screwed. If anyone can watch the bout against Sean O’Malley and confidently tell me that O’Malley emerged victorious, please explain. The former champion has the best boxing in the division, and he has proven time after time that his takedown defense is well above average despite his last fight with Sterling. Yan is crisp, consistent and undeniably technical. If he suffers another loss to an emerging contender like Dvalishvili, it will be lights out for the former the champion in regards to contender status.
This will be a five-round war that results in Yan winning by unanimous decision. He will utterly dominate Dvalishvili on the feet and do enough to avoid his opponents ground game. Yan wins by unanimous decision and will fight the winner of Cory Sandhagen and Marlon “Chito” Vera in the coming month for top contender status.
Petela: Petr Yan didn’t deserve to win either of his fights against Aljamain Sterling. It was his own boneheaded mistake that cost him in the first fight, and he got outdueled for three of the five rounds in the rematch.
Merab Dvalishvili is going to exhaust Yan with his nonstop forward pressure, as he closes the distance. He won’t stand at range long enough for Yan to get off any meaningful offense. Early on, I expect this fight to resemble the Jose Aldo clash with Dvalishvil – not a lot of offense – but Dvalishvili will control the clinch along the cage, zapping his opponent’s energy.
That pace might not be aesthetically pleasing to much of the audience, but it will wear down Petr Yan to the point of near exhaustion. By the midpoint of the fourth round, Yan won’t be able to stay upright when Dvalishvili tries to get the fight to the mat. Once the Georgian standout gets the fight into his world, he will quickly pass into half guard and keep Yan flat on his back, while he goes back-and-forth from searching for an arm-triangle choke to landing ground-and-pound. At that point, it is pick-your-poison for Yan, who won’t make it out of the fourth round before being stopped.
Alexander Romanov finds himself in a strange position, entering this fight coming off a loss for the first time in his career; can the Moldovan get back on track and defeat former M-1 Global and Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov?
Petela: I just double-checked and confirmed that Alexander Volkov is only 34 years old. It feels like he has been around forever, but, yet, he is still pretty young for a heavyweight. He has been fighting professionally for 14 years, and, of late, he has had mixed results. Including his last minute knockout loss to Derrick Lewis, which catapulted “The Black Beast” into stardom, Volkov is just 5-4 over his last 9 bouts. Three of those four wins have come by knockout, though, and he is a dangerous opponent for anyone. Not only is he a tall fighter, but he actually fights like a tall fighter. His range can be tough to navigate for the marauding heavyweights who like to march forward and swing mightily. That could cause problems for Romanov, who makes his living by getting his fights to the mat where he can work towards a submission or unleash some heavy ground-and-pound. If he can’t get inside the distance of Volkov, this could be quite a long night for Romanov.
The pair also has a recent opponent in common, as Marcin Tybura handed Romanov his first professional loss, and Volkov defeated Tybura by unanimous decision. Call it a hunch, but this feels like a fight where MMA math is going to be a lie. Romanov may be coming off a loss, but he feels like he is hitting his stride as a fighter, and his best days are still in front of him. Despite only being 34, Volkov just feels like he has passed his prime with all the miles he has put on his body since 2009. We’ve seen that Volkov is susceptible to submissions in his last loss to Tom Aspinall, and that is where Romanov shines. Before the second round comes to a close, Romanov will score a takedown in open space, where Volkov can’t use the cage to get back to his feet. Romanov will smother Volkov and lock in an arm-triangle choke to earn the biggest win of his career.
Sumian: My colleague is spot on. Alexander Romanov is one of the few heavyweight prospects left in the division poised for a big showing. He will do exactly as Matt has explained above and earn a very dominant and convincing victory.
After he defeats Volkov, Romanov could find himself welcoming Top Aspinall back to the Octagon, which should make for an extremely compelling matchup.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: It is starting to look grim for Ariane Lipski. She is 1-3 in her last four UFC fights and could find herself on the wrong end of a contract if she loses JJ Aldrich. Lipski is in desperate need of a victory to talk about.
Petela: It feels strange to choose a fighter who has won back-to-back fights, but I’ll go with Guido Cannetti. He has looked good recently, picking up a TKO win over Kris Moutinho and a submission victory over Randy Costa. However, Cannetti is 43 years old, and he has a tough matchup against Mario Bautista.
Bautista is 29 years old and hitting the prime of his career, rattling off three consecutive victories. If Cannetti comes up short, and, maybe more importantly, if he looks like his age is catching up to him, it might be the end of his UFC run. The bantamweight division is so stacked with talent, and the next season of The Ultimate Fighter features that division, so there simply won’t be room on the roster for aging veterans who aren’t big names or legitimate title contenders.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Raphael Assuncao vs. Davey Grant. This fight is buried on the prelims, but it has the potential to be the best fight of the event. Grant is a finisher, through and through. He has 12 finishes on his record, with eight submissions and four knockouts. Assuncao has been in the cage with some of the bantamweights in the world, including Cory Sandhagen, and former champions T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt. He came up short against those fighters but surely gained valuable experience sharing the Octagon with guys of that caliber. Regardless of the outcome, this fight should be circled by die hard fight fans as a can’t miss bout.
Sumian: Mario Bautista vs. Guido Cannetti is going to be fun, mark my words. These are two seasoned veterans capable of putting on a show which is exactly what they will do. I favor Baustia in this one, but Cannetti is a game opponent that will bring the fight to his opponent from start to finish.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Ryan Spann. He will get his well deserved spotlight by finishing Krylov in the second round and announcing himself as a top contender for the throne at 205 pounds. Spann is athletic, talented and immensely charismatic. He is something the division needs desperately and will make the leap come Saturday night.
Petela: Tyson Nam. He is one of the hardest hitting flyweights on the roster and loves to put on entertaining fights. He’s got a heck of a matchup against another all-action fighter in Bruno Silva. These two are both just absolute monsters, and they’re going to duel it out until someone gets clobbered and knocked out. I see Nam landing the fight-ending blow and earning himself a post-fight bonus to kick the evening off in style.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Have you ever had Georgian food? If not, Saturday is the night to give it a try. Merab Dvalishvili will get the biggest win of his career and will have more than earned a title shot. Though, as long as his pal Aljamain Sterling holds the belt, he won’t actually get that opportunity. Regardless, celebrate his victory with an array of foods from his home country. My personal recommendation is Khinkali, which is a twisted dumpling filled with meats and vegetables. It is delicious, and I order it so often that the people at Little Georgia in Reisterstown, Md. basically know my life story from all the time I spend there picking it up.
Sumian: The expected hangover that never hits. UFC fans were just treated to an epic pay-per-view card at UFC 285 and may be worn out. However, this card is loaded, fun and exciting for even the most casual fan. There will be no UFC hangover here, and things will pick up right where they left off from last Saturday.
|Fight||Sumian’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Petr Yan vs. Merab Dvalishvili||Yan||Dvalishvili|
|HW: Alexander Volkov vs. Alexander Romanov||Romanov||Romanov|
|LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Ryan Spann||Spann||Krylov|
|FW: Ricardo Ramos vs. Austin Lingo||Ramos||Ramos|
|BW: Said Nurmagomedov vs. Jonathan Martinez||Nurmagomedov||Nurmagomedov|
|LHW: Vitor Petrino vs. Anton Turkalj||Petrino||Petrino|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Lukasz Brzeski vs. Karl Williams||Williams||Brzeski|
|BW: Raphael Assuncao vs. Davey Grant||Assuncao||Grant|
|MW: Sedriques Dumas vs. Josh Fremd||Fremd||Fremd|
|BW: Mario Bautista vs. Guido Cannetti||Bautista||Bautista|
|Women’s FlyW: JJ Aldrich vs. Ariane Lipski||Aldrich||Lipski|
|BW: Tony Gravely vs. Victor Henry||Henryk||Gravely|
|FlyW: Tyson Nam vs. Bruno Silva||Nam||Nam|
|WW: Carlston Harris vs. Jared Gooden||Harris||Harris|