Petr Yan attacks Urijah Faber during their contest at UFC 245

Dominick Cruz’s rivalry with Team Alpha Male fighters is the stuff MMA legend is made of.

Between 2007 and 2016, “The Dominator” fought 27 rounds against fighters affiliated with the Sacramento gym. While his extraordinary record was made to look slightly more ordinary following his bout with Cody Garbrandt (in what may prove to be Cruz’s final fight), losing just two fights and a handful of frames to fighters from one of MMA’s premier gyms, especially when the gym’s main goal at the time was literally to beat Cruz, is a truly impressive feat.

Last night, at UFC 245, Cruz’s greatest foe, Urijah Faber, looked to build on his emphatic first-round finish of Ricky Simon earlier this year and continue his stellar return to UFC competition. At 40-years-old, “The California Kid” knew this was the last hurrah, and many fans were desperate for another vintage Faber performance. This was the chance to prove his greatness, just one more time.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, “The California Kid” was dismantled for two rounds and brutally knocked out via head kick in the third frame. While most of the discussion prior to this contest was about Faber’s return, instead, his downfall introduced mainstream fans to Petr “No Mercy” Yan: the man that Faber himself expects to continue Cruz’ war with Team Alpha Male.

From outsider to contender

Since his arrival in the UFC’s bantamweight division last year, Yan has made headlines for his outstanding performances inside the cage, and his antics outside of it. Following two impressive victories over John Dodson and Jimmie Rivera, “No Mercy” seemingly called out every ranked fighter in the division. Aljamain Sterling, Pedro Munhoz and Henry Cejudo have all been on the receiving end of Yan’s twitter callouts, but largely brushed the Russian off.

After his victory against Faber last night, the tables have turned.

The first to call out Yan was Team Alpha Male’s Cody Garbrandt, who confronted the Russian backstage following his victory. The two men had to be separated by security as they traded barbs with one another, Garbrandt shouting “After I fight in March [against Raphael Assuncao], I’ll fight you”. While “No Love” defeating Assuncao is far from guaranteed, if he does get past the Brazilian, a fight with Yan could await, but a title shot for “No Mercy” seems far more pertinent.

Another of Team Alpha Male’s athletes, Song Yadong, also called for a fight against Petr Yan. The Chinese fighter replied to Faber’s Instagram post “I will go get him.” Yadong has been training under Faber’s tutelage for a number of years now, developing a sound wrestling base to go alongside his already stellar striking. While a bout with Yan seems some way off right now for Yadong following a recent draw with Cody Stamann (Yadong was deducted a point in round 1 for an illegal knee), if the 22-year-old is to develop how many expect him to, this fight could certainly be an exciting one in years to come.

Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan have shared a rivalry for some time now, and while it has largely been Yan chasing a fight with “The Funkmaster”, last night it felt like momentum had shifted towards the Russian following such an emphatic performance on the biggest of stages. Sterling responded to Yan’s performance in a series of tweets, firstly congratulating his rival, before calling for the UFC to strip Cejudo of the title and make a fight between the two for the belt.

While it seems unlikely that the UFC will strip “Triple C”, his injury absence and status as double champion do leave questions about where Yan goes next. Cory Sandhagen fights on January 25, albeit against a currently unknown opponent, and provided he wins handily, a bout between the two uber-prospects a bantamweight could take place; a contest that would undoubtedly be pornography for the hardcore fans. Outside of Sandhagen and Sterling, a bout with Moraes would do very little for Yan, while Raphael Assuncao and Pedro Munhoz are both former victims of “No Mercy’s” fellow contenders.

Petr Yan is stuck in a fortunate, yet sticky position at the moment. Cejudo is likely to return in early 2020 but is largely expected to defend his flyweight strap first against Joseph Benavidez. This leaves Yan with plenty of potential fights, but very few that seem worthy of the Russian. Whatever is next, get ready for big things from “No Mercy.”

And if a contest with Cory Sandhagen is booked, be prepared for this writer’s twitter account to go into meltdown.

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