Petr Yan’s recent run of results has been something of a shock to fans of the top-ranked UFC bantamweight. Following a fifth round TKO of former featherweight king Jose Aldo, Yan seemed primed to be a championship-level force in the bantamweight division for years to come. Jump forward three years and while Yan is still an elite talent, he’s now 1-4 in his last five fights.
His last showing, a unanimous decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili was by far the most lopsided defeat of his career. The Georgian brought relentless pressure, wrestling, and a heavy striking output to ‘No Mercy’ for every second of five hard rounds on his way to 50-45s across the boards. Even in past defeats, Yan had never looked so thoroughly neutralized and overwhelmed.
After the bout, Yan took to social media, suggesting that he might have been suffering from some kind of physical ailment. With a lack of details, however, the Tiger Muay Thai fighter has left the door open to speculation—and at least one of his former opponents is weighing in.
On a recent episode of his TimboSugarShow podcast, fellow bantamweight Sean O’Malley gave his thoughts on Yan’s loss. For his part, O’Malley can’t help wondering if his war with the Russian left Yan a changed man.
“I genuinely in my heart felt bad for Petr,” O’Malley said (transcript via MMA Fighting). “After, I’m like, ‘Goddamn it.’ You go from just the scariest — Dustin Poirier saying you’re the best boxer, you’re on the pound-for-pound list, you’re the baddest dude in the division, people are terrified of you ... Then you fucking illegally knee ‘Aljo.’ Then you lose a close fight to ‘Aljo.’ Then you get beat by me.
“I felt like he looked a little different in there, but it also might be that’s how good Merab is. Merab might have just made him look like that. I just saw it and I’m like, damn, I took a little something from Petr, I feel like.”
For the most part, O’Malley had nothing but kind words for Yan and his performance against ‘The Machine.’ Mostly, O’Malley speculates that Yan dove into an especially difficult fight to overcome the embarassment of losing to a “cute” guy with “pink hair.”
“He was so embarrassed that he lost to me that he wanted that [win] back so bad. And the division’s booked. Rob [Font], Adrian [Yanez], like the whole division is booked out. Merab was the only one. That just shows you how fucking gangster Petr is. He didn’t care, he said, ‘I want Merab. I have to get this win back. I can’t be coming off a loss to ‘Sugar Sean’.’”
Whatever the reason, the result is the same. Sean O’Malley and Merab Dvalishvili now stand more or less alone as the bantamweight division’s top contenders once the upcoming title fight between Henry Cejudo and Aljamain Sterling goes down this May. The only question remaining is whether O’Malley and Dvalishvili will have to go through one another before they get their crack at gold.