The UFC is reportedly heading to Florida to hold its postponed UFC 249 pay-per-view event, and the scheduled co-main event features a bantamweight title fight between champion Henry Cejudo and former divisional kingpin Dominick Cruz.
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While some fans were exciting to hear of the booking, which came after former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo was forced to withdraw from his scheduled bout against Cejudo due to visa issues stemming from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, third-ranked contender Petr Yan isn’t one of them.
Writing to The Body Lock, Yan explained, “[The] event being canceled and travel being restricted was predictable in the current situation, so I expected that Aldo would be out of the fight. But the news of [a Dominick] Cruz title shot came out of nowhere. Everyone already forgot that he is an active fighter. But, a lot of crazy things happening now, not only in [the] MMA world.”
Cruz, 35, has yet to compete inside the Octagon since losing his title to ex-titlist Cody Garbrandt by decision at UFC 207, which took place in December of 2016. Including the fight against Cejudo, the American has been booked to fight three times since – once in 2017, once in 2019, and now once in 2020.
A matchup with Jimmie Rivera slated for UFC 219 fell through after Cruz suffered a broken arm, and a proposed UFC 233 fight with now-ONE Championship athlete John Lineker was canceled after Cruz withdrew with a shoulder injury.
In Cruz’s absence, the bantamweight division has experienced a rebirth. Cejudo captured his title by knocking out T.J. Dillashaw in under a minute to kick off the UFC’s ESPN+ partnership, Aljamain Sterling has amassed a 6-2 record – including four straight victories, two-weight WSOF champ Marlon Moraes cemented his status as a top contender, and Yan has been a perfect 6-0 inside the Octagon.
To Yan, Cruz’s inactivity and the division’s other contenders’ successes make the former champion undeserving of an immediate title shot upon his return to action, though he understands that things aren’t always as straightforward in MMA.
“I don’t think Cruz deserves the title shot,” said Yan, “but I understand and accept the rules of this game.”
Yan believes he has done enough in his two-year UFC tenure, which includes victories over Rivera, UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber, and John Dodson, among others, to earn a crack at promotional gold, but is willing to take out all comers en route to the title if need be.
“I think I deserve to fight for the title, and I’m ready to prove it with my actions. If I have to clear out the division before I fight for the belt, I will do it.”
Currently, Yan is slated to Moraes in what could be a title-eliminator in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on June 13. However, the UFC’s ability to move forward with the event as planned is as of yet uncertain.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC has been forced to postpone or cancel all of its events since UFC Brasilia on March 14, most notably the ill-fated UFC 249 card set to take place at Tachi Palace in California.
Yan provided an update on his current situation due to the virus, and expressed his willingness to compete as scheduled.
“I’m currently in Phuket, Thailand with my family,” Yan said. “Right now, the government here has got the situation under control, and we [haven’t had] new cases on the island for a few days already. So, we expect things to get back to normal on May 1st. [The] gym was closed for one month already, so I had to adapt and train at home. Now, I can’t wait to go back to camp.”
The 27-year-old explained that he has faith in the UFC to mitigate risks and ensure the fighters’ safety amid the pandemic, even expressing willingness to compete on “Fight Island,” an undisclosed private territory reportedly secured by UFC President Dana White for the purpose of conducting fights involving international fighters.
“I think the UFC knows better what to do. They won’t put on an event if they can’t guarantee safety measures for everyone involved,” said Yan.
“I will fight in any place in the world, [even] wherever this island is located.”
The Russian fighter said that his fight with Moraes is one he feels is the most challenging in the division, going on to dismiss rival Cody Garbrandt’s repeated verbal jabs.
“I already have a scheduled fight against #1 contender Marlon Moraes. He has wins over Sterling and Aldo. I believe he presents more challenges than anyone else in the division; that’s why I wanted to fight him. Right now, I’m not interested in fighting Cody. [The] last time he won was more than 3 years ago. I can deal with him later if he can start winning again and won’t run away to the flyweight division,” concluded Yan.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.