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UFC Vegas 71: It’s personal between Petr Yan and Merab Dvilashvili in key bantamweight scrap

There are many so-called fights in mixed martial arts, but it is rare that two fighters take an extreme dislike to each other. Usually, the stakes in a bout are enough to motivate athletes to peak performance.

And there’s a lot at stake for both former bantamweight champion Petr Yan and his opponent, Merab Dvilashvili, when they meet in the main event of UFC Vegas 71 at the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas Saturday (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+). The bantamweight division is filled with elite contenders seeking a shot at champion Aljamene Sterling, including former champions Henry Cejudo, Sean O’Malley, Marlon Vera and Corey Sandhagen, among others.

On Saturday, the winner will be in prime position for a title shot. The loser will drop a few notches and there will be a lot of Star Fighters between him and the title.

However, this is one of those rare cases where the combatants don’t actually like each other and have a significant personal beef. That should add an edge to what is already shaping up to be a fascinating fight to watch.

“Every fight is very important in the UFC,” Dvalisvili said.

But there was more. She just needed a little nudge to open up and discuss her issues with Yann. Winning the fight is important because of ranking, but it is also important for many personal reasons.

His first issue is about Russia’s political position in the world. Yan is Russian and Dvilashvili is from Georgia. The countries have had a difficult history, although this is clearly not the fault of either fighter.

However, Dvilashvili touched on the first point.

“This fight is not just a fight; It’s personal to me,” Dvilashvili said. “He’s from Russia, I’m from Georgia. We all know Russia, what they are doing with Ukraine now, (and) what they did with Georgia. Russia is not a democratic country. I know I want to win for my people. I have received so much support from my country and so much support from Ukraine.

“Petr is a great fighter. He is a former champion. We all know he is tough. As a fighter, he is a great fighter. He is dangerous. There is no hole in him. He is a good striker. He’s a good striker. He wrestles good defense. He has good cardio. It’s my toughest fight. And I have other reasons. I think he’s a great fighter, a good family man, but He is not a humble person. He is not a great person. It doesn’t matter how good a fighter you are, you have to be a good person.”

Dvalishvili called Yan a cheater and said that Yan “didn’t do great things” when he was championing charity work such as this.

After defeating Hall of Famer Jose Aldo in August, Merab Dvilashvili turned his attention to former champion Petr Yan. (Photo by Alejandro Salazar / Getty Images)

“I don’t think he’s a good guy,” said Dvalishvili, who is a friend and teammate of Sterling’s. “Maybe he’s there for his family, but other than that what is he doing?”

As a former champion, Yan is the big name and so was ruling out Dvilashvili. He said that Dvilashvili was trying to ride on his coattails and attract attention. He essentially said that Dvalishvili is two-faced and speaks when there are cameras and media around but does not talk to him face-to-face.

He only dismissed Dvilashvili’s comments as insignificant.

“He has no other way of drawing attention to himself,” Yan said. “He can’t do that with his fights. In his fights, he grabs legs like a dog and pushes his opponents up in the cage. So he’s just trying to get a little attention or something. Somebody’s in it.” Not interested.

And so their fight, which is hugely important in The Division, is cut a little extra. Yan is a -250 favorite at BetMGM, with Dvalishvili at +200, But Yan has lost two in a row and three of his last four, although the first of those losses was a disqualification when he hit Sterling with an illegal knee. Has racked up eight consecutive wins in nearly four years, to propel himself to contender status.

To keep the momentum going, though, he’ll need at least one more win. It would be a matter of happiness, he said.

Yan needs a win even considering their recent defeat, so there is added incentive from both sides.

“Winning in the UFC is important to me, whether I was fighting the first fight on the card or when you’re on pay-per-view,” he said. “Every fight is important in the UFC and I have to make sure I win this fight.”



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