On paper, this might seem like a derivative of Jose Aldo vs. Merab Dvalishvili, where Merab used suffocating forward pressure and great distance management to slow his opponent down. However, Petr is much younger than Aldo so this should look more like Merab vs. Jose Aldo in his prime. That Aldo wouldn't give up the cage and let you walk him down, but where Aldo relied on lightning-fast strikes to catch people, Petr is a bit more measured. He has the speed but doesn't bank on it, instead using excellent timing and bludgeoning power to slow his opponent down. I think that will be the difference. Not to solely rely on good footwork married with superior boxing, but to incorporate more kicks which could throw off Merab's timing. Merab can't cut off the cage, which is to move laterally left and right while walking towards your opponent to corral them against the cage, if he's constantly backing up a step to avoid heavy kicks. The key is to set the tone early, using quality feints to hide the kicks so Merab doesn't catch them and turn them into takedowns.
When Merab gets into a groove and finds the takedown is when he's most dangerous. Petr struggled with this in his second fight against the current champ, but Merab has a different game and is arguably not as quick as Aljamain. Which is why I give Petr a slight edge in this contest. An x-factor worth considering is Petr's coming off 2 very controversial losses in a row. Petr may be a little more willing to open up to put a stamp on this fight and avoid the judges' scorecards, but opening up too much can lead to unnecessary mistakes. Overcommit on a hook with no setup and Merab will gladly duck under it, grab a body lock and drag you to the ground. The flip side to that is Merab's past willingness to throw caution to the wind (see Merab vs. John Dodson), he would throw wild punches to get you reacting and off balance so he could drive in for a double leg. Although I don't expect such a reckless approach vs. Petr, especially considering how heavy-handed Petr is and how quickly that could backfire.
A quick glance at the numbers shows how well Merab puts you in danger while avoiding taking punishment. His average striking differential is about 1 strike taken to land 2, whereas Petr averages taking 4 to land 5. We've seen in his fight with Marlon Moraes that Merab can hurt you. While Petr has the striking advantage, he shouldn't get too comfortable or let himself get pulled into any wild exchanges. As for the layout of this fight, 5 rounds provide plenty of time to work. While Merab isn't known to gas out, you can't wrestle at your best for 25 minutes straight, at some point each man will have to meet the other on their terms. Can Merab find late success with constant pressure and well-timed takedowns while Petr relies on heavy counter-striking? Or will Petr set the tone early, circling away from the driving force and punishing him with well-timed strikes?
Hardcore History: Petr Yan was born in Dudinka, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. His Father is of Chinese and Georgian descent and his Mother is of Russian Descent. Despite the popularity of grappling sports in Russia, Yan wanted to be a striker and took up Taekwon-Do around age 11, before following his older brother's footsteps into the world of boxing. He trained in boxing for 8 years, gaining the title "Master of Sport" at 64kg (141 pounds). Yan started his pro-MMA career at 21 and finally joined the UFC at 25. Not counting the illegal knee disqualification at UFC 259, Yan has only been defeated twice in his UFC career, as previously mentioned both of those were hotly debated decisions. Nonetheless, a loss here would put Yan on a very unsettling 3-fight losing streak. That would have been impossible to imagine coming off his title win over Jose Aldo just 2.5 years ago, where he landed almost 200 significant strikes en route to a brutal 5th-round TKO.
Merab Dvalishvili is just 2 years older than Petr and also has Georgian blood running through his veins. He grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia, and took on combat sambo at a very young age. He entered the UFC at age 26, losing two very close fights before going on his current 8-fight win streak. Extending that streak and successfully following up his most recent win over the 'King of Rio' would give him tremendous momentum. That being said, training with Team Serra Longo in Long Island, New York has likely reinforced his already grappling-heavy approach. His current takedown accuracy lands at about 40%, dropping considerably after failing to land even 1 of his 16 attempts vs. Aldo. To make matters worse for Merab, Petr boasts an impressive 90% takedown defense. Assuming the takedown doesn't come easy, this is likely Petr's fight to lose.
Dave’s Pick: Yan opened up as a -130 favorite, then quickly went to -170 and finally settled in at -230. The total is 4.5 rounds with the over as the -250 favorite. This is absolutely Yan’s fight to lose. After that really controversial decision loss to Sean O’Malley, I really don’t think that Yan will leave any doubt here. With a 5.3 Strikes Landed per Minute, Yan’s output will certainly be on display. This should be a great stand-up match, and I’m laying the 230 for 100. You know what else looks really interesting? Yan to finish Merab via KO/TKO at +250. I’ll take a little piece of that as well. Good Luck!
Jon Jones going forward:
That main event had giant implications on the division and the fictional race to be crowned greatest of all time. Holy crap did that end quickly, we didn't learn much, but here's what we did learn:
1. Jon can still take out the trash. That isn't to say Ciryl is trash, but his ground game most definitely is. I can't remember the last time I was so excited for an "elite fight" just to have the rug pulled out from under me within 1 round, maybe the last time was Conor Mac taking out Cowboy Cerrone with his infamous shoulder strikes.
2. Jon is still very much a gamer, for taking a groin shot that nasty and so early in your first fight in 3 years. A lot of guys would have taken that round off, or acted on emotions going head-hunting for that sweet, sweet revenge. Not Jon, he stuck with the game plan. This is something we've known about his team as long as Greg Jackson has been in his corner, those guys study and execute on another level.
3. Francis Ngannou was the best guy in the division and now he's gone, so where does that leave us, or more specifically who does that leave us with? Enter Stipe Miocic, our favorite 'Croatian Clevelander'. Joe Rogan called him out post-fight, which is strange, but it seemed staged as Stipe was present in the audience. Jon obliged and confirmed his interest in fighting Stipe in July, referring to Stipe as the greatest heavyweight of all time, which as I stated before, is a fictional title no one can really verify or deny. We never got Brock vs. Fedor, or Cain vs. Stipe, and we may never get Jones vs. Ngannou. The MMA Gods either really hate fun, or the UFC somehow eternally pissed them off.
Of all the things we hoped to learn but didn't, here's what we might learn from Jones vs. Stipe:
1. What does Jon look like in a 25-minute fight or even a 15-minute fight? How does his gas tank really hold up at heavyweight? He's carrying a ton of new and unfamiliar weight.
2. What does Jon do when his opponent has at least enough grappling skill to avoid the submission? If Stipe can get back to his feet or avoid the takedown altogether, who gets the better of the stand-up between Stipe and Jon?
3. Say Jon loses, that's not my prediction but lets at least entertain the idea, where does he go from there? Does he retire? or do they run it back immediately? (especially if it's close). The Heavyweight division may be on hold for a while. Wouldn't it be fun to do a small tournament including top contenders like Ciryl Gane, Curtis Blaydes, Sergey Pavlovich, and Tom Aspinall? My pick to win that would be Tom, a fight between him and Jones would be fireworks and could really restore my faith in the MMA Gods. Who am I kidding though? I'll probably get struck by lightning for even suggesting such a thing.