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Rani Yahya claims he’s 135’s ‘best grappler,’ doesn’t see what Dillashaw could do to ‘surprise’ him

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Longtime UFC bantamweight Rani Yahya believes he could take on division champ, TJ Dillashaw.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Yahya vs Briones
Rani Yahya
Miguel Tovar-USA TODAY Sports

Bantamweight veteran Rani Yahya is in the prime of his UFC career. Ever since he dropped back to the 135 division, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has only lost one fight in his last nine. However, despite picking up finishes in his last three, the 34-year-old training out of Constrictor Team just can’t seem to catch a break.

Stuck on preliminary cards against un-ranked fighters, Yahya told Bloody Elbow that he knows exactly what he needs to do in order to gain more popularity. The key is all in self-promotion and trash talking, something he considers to be a natural part of the sport. Add to that, Rani says he won’t take any high-risk, low-reward challenges anymore, and risk what he’s already gained.

“At bantamweight, it all comes do to numbers. I’m the one with the most submissions. I believe I currently am the best grappler in the division in the UFC.” Yahya said. “I think it’s all about promoting yourself. Having the chance to get your name out there and play the same game as many other fighters who are finding success these days. Calling out names, talking trash, that kind of thing. I’ve been finishing fights, but it’s not enough.

“Maybe I shouldn’t accept everything the UFC offers me. Because I’ve been having a hard time getting a better ranked opponent. It’s hard for me. I’ve been fighting un-ranked guys and I’m also a threat to the higher-ranked fighters, because I could finish them and end their reputations. But I put my foot down, I’ll only fight someone who’s above me in the rankings.”

It’s simple, as the Brazilian puts it. In order to start making money, fighters need to help the company make money first. That, in Rani’s opinion, should be advice to all fighters who want to grow under the UFC’s banner.

“It’s a business. We must understand that this is the way the sport works now. It’s only a sport when the cage’s door is shut and the referee says it’s on. Outside of that, we must entertain, talk and worry about attracting as much people as possible. Everyone wants a good paycheck, but we need to give something back to the company. I understand that. It’s a part of the deal. I think everyone who wants to grow inside the UFC today needs to understand this.”

But, Yahya isn’t just serious about not fighting lesser-ranked opposition. He’s also looking for a crack at the bantamweight title and TJ Dillashaw – a fighter he believes wouldn’t be that difficult to handle.

“I don’t think he’s that big of a deal. Surely he’s very well-conditioned. He feels very comfortable in the Octagon. But when it comes to his style? I’ve been watching him for a while, and I’ve trained with many guys with the same traits as him. This is what he does to confuse his opponents: He’s always switching stances. That’s what’s been confusing his opponents so much.

“Another thing, he hits you while switching stances. Another thing he does is that he’ll punch you in the stomach and kick you in the head and that can take you by surprise. Most opponents fall for it, because that’s unusual in MMA striking. But that won’t surprise me, I’ve noticed that for a long time. I also do stuff like that. I drill that a lot and I train with people who also that. Honestly, putting modesty aside, I don’t see what he could do to surprise me.”

Currently on three-fight winning streak, with submission wins over the likes of Luke Sanders, Russell Doane and Henry Briones, Rani Yahya (26-9) has 20 submission wins under his belt. He hasn’t lost a fight since March 2017, when dropped an unanimous decision to Joe Soto. No word yet on when he’ll return to the Octagon, or who his next opponent will be, but it sounds like Yahya will be gunning for the top of the division going forward.