clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Adrian Yanez is more than the guy who KO’d Tony Kelley — he’s a contender

Adrain Yanez looks like he is going to be a problem for UFC bantamweights

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Adrian Yanez earned a UFC contract on the strength of 39 seconds. That’s how long it took him to knockout Brady Huang during their Dana White Contender Series fight in August 2020. In awarding Yanez his deal, UFC president Dana White said of the then 26 year-old, “I didn’t get to see much… and I look forward to seeing more in the UFC.” White might still be waiting to see more of Yanez. In five UFC fights, Yanez has gone the distance once.

Yanez made his official UFC debut in October 2021 opposite Victor Rodriguez. Yanez, a heavy favorite in that matchup, ran through Rodriguez in 2:46, wrapping things up with a ruinous head kick.

After the win, UFC commentator Michael Bisping said of Yanez, “We’ve got a real prospect on our hands.”

After his win, Yanez said (via MMA Junkie), “Right now, man, I feel like I’m unstoppable. I want to keep going. I don’t want to stop. I’m on this roll and I want to keep going. I think I showed a lot of aspects from my game just in my debut. I hope they’re all scared because I’m coming for everybody. I just want to keep impressing everyone around me. I just want them to know I’m a great fighter. I want them to legitimately look at me as a top 10 contender here very soon.”

Yanez might not have wanted to stop, but the UFC did not book him again until seven months later. In March 2021, the promotion matched him up against Gustavo Lopez. Yanez was a -220 favorite in this matchup. Lopez was a game opponent for Yanez, but in the end it was Yanez who was the better fighter. His striking was faster, more active and most importantly, more powerful as he ended things with a beautifully violent counter right.

Bisping changed his tune about Yanez in the aftermath of his second UFC knockout win, upgrading Yanez from “a real prospect” to “a future contender.” Bisping’s commentary partner that night in Vegas, Paul Felder, agreed.

After the fight, Yanez was happy with his performance, but he refused to buy into the hype that was developing around him thanks to his growing number of knockout wins.

“I feel like I’m at the top of the division, but I’m the new kid on the block,” said Yanez. Gustavo Lopez is a tough fighter. I respected his power. That’s why it took me a minute. Merab (Dvashili) didn’t finish him and he’s in the top 15, but I got the finish. What does that say about me? That says big things about me. I still have to work. I still have a lot to prove to myself. My work’s not done yet. I have a long way to go.”

In July, the UFC matchmakers gave Yanez what seemed like it was going to be his first big test. In the main card opener of UFC Vegas 32, Yanez was booked opposite another rising young fighter, Randy Costa. Again the favorite, Yanez had a bad first round.

Costa’s jab proved troublesome and damaging for the first five minutes of the bout. Costa controlled the action. He was aggressive in his forward movement and slick in retreating before Yanez could counter. Yanez cleared the cobwebs from his head and the blood from his face in the minute between the first and second rounds of the contest and came back with a different game plan.

Yanez’s pressure and pace had Costa backing up in the second. That pressure put Costa to the cage at the midpoint of the round and once Costa was trapped, Yanez teed off with a litany of strikes that brought the fight to an end.

After the win over Costa, Yanez set his sights on UFC veterans, Jimmie Rivera and Raphael Assuncao. The UFC did not grant Yanez his wish, instead the promotion matched him opposite Davey Grant.

Grant, a member of the UFC roster since 2013, was coming off a 3-1 run where he scored a decision over Grigorii Popov before racking up “Performance of the Night” bonuses for knockouts of Martin Day and Jonathan Martinez. Grant’s run of three straight wins ended when Marlon Vera defeated him by decision a few months before his bout opposite Yanez.

Yanez entered the bout with a heavy heart. A few months before he faced Grant, Yanez lost his coach, Saul Soliz to COVID-19. Soliz had been in Yanez’s corner for all his previous bouts at the UFC Apex. Yanez was able to lock those emotions away — until after the fight when he burst into tears — and earn a split decision win.

What was notable about Yanez’s performance in that 15-minute bout was his composure and confidence in battling and berating Grant, something Yanez spoke about in his post-fight interview.

“I’m always learning something about myself in a fight, especially this one with just how the training camp was and how emotional this one was with everything that went on,” Yanez said. “Man, it just kind of solidified that what my coach and what my dad had been telling me, what they told me their entire lives whenever I was with them. They believed in me. They knew I could do this. The fact that I was able to go out there and do it was just one of those moments where I was like, ‘Yeah, I just got to keep believing in myself.’

“Sometimes, it’s kind of hard, especially when you’ve got the guy that brought you up not there for you. You just kind of have those doubts. The fact that I was able to go in there and just shadow all doubts within myself and just go in there and fight, I was able to learn.”

This past weekend, Yanez showed more of that composure and confidence in his matchup opposite Tony Kelley.

If the UFC Austin event had a villain, it was Kelley. He was lambasted in the lead up to the fight for the bigoted remarks he made while cornering Andrea Lee in an earlier UFC fight and when he missed weight for his bout opposite Yanez, the animosity the MMA world had for Kelley seemed to increase. If there was a fighter who many hoped would notch a knockout win at the Moody Center, it was Yanez.

He delivered. Yanez hurt Kelley, but showing his poise and fight IQ, he didn’t rush in haphazardly for a knockout. Instead, he stayed cool, picked his spots, found his openings and scored the knockout on his terms.

The knockout over Kelley seemed to be the big talking point after Yanez’s win and while it was satisfying to see him get that finish, what might have been overlooked is what Bisping was saying since Yanez’s second UFC fight — this guy is a future contender.

Not only is Yanez 5-0 in the UFC with four knockouts, he has four “Performance of the Night” bonuses and one “Fight of the Night” nod. He also made his way into the official UFC bantamweight rankings on the strength of his knockout win over Kelley. He is now the No. 15 ranked UFC 135-pounder.

Yanez deserves a crack at a ranked opponent in his next outing. Perhaps that fighter could be the the winner of the upcoming Sean O’Malley and Pedro Munhoz fight at UFC 276? Yanez and O’Malley have both expressed interest in that matchup. And if that’s not the fight that comes to fruition, so be it. Whoever Yanez gets matched up against, fight fans want to be in their seats for that scrap.