The UFC doesn’t often pack as many as three championship fights into a single night. But when it does, it prefers to prominently feature Petr Yan.
The UFC bantamweight champion, who will defend his title for the first time Saturday against Aljamain Sterling at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, is part of a trio of defending champs in action on the UFC 259 pay-per-view event. Such was also the case when he won the vacant crown with a dominant fifth-round TKO of Jose Aldo last July. In his last non-title fight in December 2019, his third-round KO of Urijah Faber came on the PPV main card highlighted by a championship triple-header.
One one hand, placing Yan (15-1, eight finishes) on prominent events is a tool to increase exposure for the proud native of the vast Siberia region in Russia. But that also means he has yet to be promoted as the star attraction. Not that the 28-year-old is in such a rush a little more than seven years into his MMA career.
“I just have to keep winning,” Yan, who speaks Russian, told The Post over the phone Tuesday through manager Sayat Abdrakhmanov. “I have everything to make my fights entertaining, just keep winning, and this will come.”
Yan emphasizes hard work and results over pre-fight hype, but he’s had his fair share of back-and-forth on social media with Sterling (19-3, 10 finishes), a 31-year-old Long Island native who trains at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City. A former two-time NCAA Division III All-American at SUNY Cortland with eight wins by submission, the challenger has said he believes he needs just “one takedown” to get the job done and usurp Yan, a former boxer who at the beginning of his MMA journey learned wrestling from watching YouTube.
The champion, who has spun the boast of Sterling lacking a plan “B,” said he’s unconcerned with the chatter and simply intends to make Saturday the first of what he plans to be a long and active reign atop the 135-pound weight class that is considered to be perhaps the deepest in the sport.
“It’s an honor to be champion of such a deep division like that,” Yan said.
Although Yan typically trains at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, he prepared for this fight with Coconut Creek, Fla.-based American Top Team, one of the most prominent gyms in the sport with several world champions under its roof. He has enjoyed the experience but isn’t ready to commit to a full-time switch.
“We’ll see if I’m going to make it my permanent base,” Yan said. “I will, for sure, come back to Thailand. I love it there. Great weather, great camp. And in Florida, there are also a lot of benefits of training partners. So we’ll see. Definitely, I’ll be coming back. For sure.”
Training so far from his wife and two sons is a challenge for the champ, who has been away from them for two months and FaceTimes with them daily. Once the job is done against Sterling, Yan will take advantage of the time between fights by soaking in quality family time, including favorite activities like trips to the movies and taking in nature.
“After the fight, when I’m with my family is the time when I relax and enjoy myself, when I let my guard down,” Yan said.
Yan has pointed to his “Siberian tenacity” as a driving force in his success. He was born in Yekaterinburg, one of Russia’s largest cities with well over one million citizens. As one might expect from the region’s reputation, the winters are long, with freezing temperatures typical from October through April.
Some outside of Russia may have preconceived notions of what the region may be like. And while he recommends visiting the place that shaped him to soak in all its “beautiful places” and prefers not to paint it as a purely “harsh” locale, he concedes it helped mold him into who he is: a champion.
“Siberia being a place with harsh conditions, you have to be tough to survive there,” Yan said. “You have to work hard to become someone.”