The UFC bantamweight division is one of the most stacked and exciting divisions in the sport. This Saturday, two of the top contenders will clash in a high-stakes showdown that could determine the next title challenger. Former champion Petr Yan will face off against Merab Dvalishvili in the main event of UFC Vegas 71 at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas.
Yan is looking to bounce back from a recent defeat to Sean O’Malley at UFC 280. After his impressive 7-0 start in the UFC, Yan then suffered two consecutive losses to Aljamain Sterling, who currently holds the belt. Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee in their first fight and lost a close decision in their rematch. Yan is still considered one of the best strikers and finishers in the division, with 7 knockouts and 1 submission in his 18 wins.
Dvalishvili is riding an eight-fight winning streak that has propelled him to the No. 3 spot in the rankings. He is known for his relentless wrestling and cardio, setting a UFC record for most takedowns landed in a single bantamweight fight with 12 against Casey Kenney. Dvalishvili has also improved his striking and durability, earning his first knockout win in the UFC over Marlon Moraes at UFC 266.
This fight promises to be a thrilling clash of styles and wills between two elite fighters who are hungry for gold. Will Yan regain his momentum and prove he deserves another shot at Sterling? Or will Dvalishvili extend his streak? Read on for our betting odds and staff predictions for this blockbuster bantamweight bout.
This is an incredibly interesting fight, the tenacious and plain meanness of Petr Yan vs. Merab Dvalishvili who is unapologetic about his control and scoring-based system. Dvalishvili is supremely conditioned, melting opponents with his work rate, but this will be his first shot at 5 rounds, which is Yan’s turf. Most likely, we will see Dvalishvili take control of the pace early on, earning the first couple of rounds, by either landing his takedowns or if unable to complete them, pushing Yan against the cage and grinding out octagon control for the majority of the five minutes. Although he has a solid straight right, he doesn’t really have the finishing power in any of his individual strikes to rival Yan’s previous opponents, he will leap into shots and his low kicks come semi-commital, more so a placeholder in order to avoid allowing any break in the pace. A lot of his punches are thrown to raise the guard and set up the level change.
Although he is constantly shooting, Dvalishvili does not have the greatest success rate against the best when it comes to takedowns. He does not get discouraged, as whether he lands or misses rarely matters as long as he stays in control. For Yan, it’s integral that he find a way to make Dvalishvili pay for missed takedowns. Yan has tremendous elbows, knees, and kicks off of clinch breaks. This is far harder when he is trapped against the cage, but if he is able to create space or reverse position for even a moment, he only has that moment to land something significant before Dvalishvili is circling around again. Knees to the body are great in terms of potentially slowing down the workhorse, and he has shown a vulnerability to the left hook, which Yan could circle him onto if this happens.
At the range, both men want the center of the octagon, for Dvailishvili it gives him the opportunity to run his opponents onto the cage and keep his striking pressure on, for Yan, it forces Dvailishvili to shoot on the backfoot which is exponentially harder. If Yan is able to press forward, he will want to walk Dvalishvili onto his left hook, switch stance and get him walking onto his right, as Yan is so good at stepping through with his combinations, to cut off the opposite side in transition. He will also want to beat down the legs of Dvalishvili as taking down the base takes away that explosive double leg, especially over his first five-round fight
If this was a three-round fight, I love Dvalishvili in this matchup. His pace is proven and unmatched, the questions appear as to whether is it sustainable for an extra two rounds. Dvalishvili does not typically do a lot of damage in his fights, and Yan absolutely does, so the other question is how diminished will either fighter be going into rounds three, four, or five. Yan is coming off three straight losses, so how desperate, or frustrated will he get if time is running out and Dvalishvili has racked up too much control time? Yan does have a slight habit of making questionable decisions with his back against the wall, throughout his pre-UFC career and of late, especially for such a technical fighter when he is in control.
The most likely scenario I can see is Dvalishvili starts strong, but takes the brunt of the damage in the exchanges and we see a shift somewhere nearing the third or fourth round. This could be enough for Yan to find that left hook, or knees and kicks and finish Dvalishvili who we have seen in trouble against some good strikers. However, as the underdog at +225, it’s also very plausible that Dvalishvili banks those first three rounds, and even if the tides do shift, earns himself 3-2 rounds on the scorecards. I like Yan’s chances over five rounds, but the value is in Dvalishvili and +225.
Best Bet: Dvalishvili to win (+225)
Well here we are again, Petr “No Mercy” Yan is favored over another top 5 ranked opponent. Throughout his entire career, Yan has been favored in every single one of his fights, most of the time with a -200 or bigger number next to his name. And, until recently, Yan has won over and over. However, “No Mercy” has dropped 3 of his last 4 fights, despite being the favorite in each fight. Yan, in his first title match against Aljo, was winning the fight but was DQ’d for a blatantly illegal knee. He rebounded with a decision win over Sandhagen 7 months later. That win put him back in a title fight against his nemeses, Aljo. Yan was stuck in a body triangle for long bouts of the fight and dropped a decision. He then was in a 3-round split decision war with Sean “Suga” O’Malley that was as entertaining as it was controversial. Still, though, Yan lost. Saturday night, Yan co-headlines another UFC card where he is a sizeable favorite.
Yan has been consistently favored in his fights because of his elite skillset, unquestioned cardio, and assassin-like demeanor. On the feet, Yan has some of the best pure boxing in the division. He hits like a truck, throws with speed, and has little to no wasted movement. Yan’s boxing is compact, powerful, and consistently effective. His footwork, stiff and plotting, has recently been under scrutiny. He tends to stand straight up in a Muay Thai stance with a high protective guard and bait strikes out of his opponents so he can counter. Because of his stance and counter-savvy approach, Yan’s movement is minimal and rigid. Being a stationary target allowed Aljo to easily access the clinch and helped Suga land even more strikes. Yan’s grappling, although he was controlled by Sterling for long bouts, is still impressive. While his footwork can be stiff, his scrambles are athletic and explosive. Yan reacts well to single and double leg shots, drops his hips in an instant, and uses his strength well to reverse position or get the fight back to the feet. He can also offensively wrestle well himself. He is skilled at timing his shots and driving through his opponent until they hit the canvas. Both when striking and wrestling Yan masterfully implements a lull and explode tacit. He waits and waits like a lioness in the grass, and then explodes with a flurry or a takedown the way the same lioness pounces on a gazelle. It is truly a sight to see when Yan is on. But, he is coming off back to back losses for the first time in his career and there are whispers that Yan has not progressed his game enough to deal with the faster, stronger, or more multi-faceted fighters atop the division.
Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili is a wild man in all of the best ways. Uniquely, Merab’s greatest weapon is his cardio. No matter the opponent, no matter the circumstance, and no matter his physical state, Merab keeps going and going and going, always. Dvalishvili is a highly skilled wrestler who constantly shoots for takedowns throughout a fight. To put it in perspective, Dvalishvili landed double digit takedowns in back to back fights in 2020. Most fighters don’t have the cardio or skillset to even attempt double digit takedowns, let alone land them. Merab’s motor is the best in the division; it’s not just cardio, it’s pressure. The criticism to make following such impressive wrestling is that in order to get double digit takedowns in a fight, Merab didn’t get a finish and didn’t hold his opponent down for long periods of time. Mat returns are remarkable and fun to watch but a more effective method of victory is to land a takedown and find a finish, something Merab has only done once in the UFC. On the feet, Dvalishvili throws heat and continues to perpetuate his wild man persona. He tends to wildly swing, attempt spinning attacks, and kick like he’s part of a kickline on stage. His striking is designed to create chaos so he can create more openings for his wrestling. And, because of his unmatched motor, Merab can get away with such explosive movements without concern of gassing out. Lastly, and most interestingly, Merab has a distinct advantage in this fight that no one on else in the division has. He is Aljo’s teammate and close friend. Aljo, the only man to beat Yan twice, has been training with Merab for months and will likely be in his corner on Saturday night. Not only will Merab get inside information on how to fight “No Mercy,” Yan will also have to deal with the mental warfare of taking on yet another Serra-Longo fighter.
Yan is the better mixed martial artist, he is far more technical on the feet, hits with more precision and power, has a strong wrestling game, and might be the only bantamweight who can match the cardio of Merab. However, Yan has been the better mixed martial artist in back-to-back fights and lost both of them. Sometimes the better fighter doesn’t win. Handicapping this fight, Yan’s goal will likely be to keep Merab moving linearly where Yan’s straight punches, up the middle knees, and push kicks will damage Dvalishvili while also deterring takedowns. Meanwhile, Dvalishvili will look to wrestle and wrestle and wrestle while mixing in a few explosive strikes. Merab’s striking defense is porous and he’s been rocked before, so Yan should be able to hurt him. But, Merab has never been finished and “The Machine” seems inhumanely persistent. I’m not betting Yan straight at this price; and, having been burned in back-to-back fights of his, will not put him in parlays either. Instead, I like a sprinkle on Yan inside the distance. Dvalishvili’s striking defense should provide opening for Yan to land clean and Yan has finishing power on the feet. Because of the minimal price difference of knockout (+280) and inside the distance (+225), I’ll hedge a bit and take Yan inside the distance even though I think knockout is the most likely way Yan finds the finish.
Best Bet: Yan to win inside the distance (+225)
Petr Yan, the former champion of the bantamweight division, is currently experiencing a slight down spell in his career given he is 0-2 over his last two fights. On the surface, it looks like he may have lost a step, but, when you dive deeper and re-watch the fights, many people in the MMA community believe he should be, at worst, 1-1 in those fights. Regardless of how you or anyone scored the fights, the skills displayed by Yan in each of those fights are still elite of the elite, and the main downfalls of his game will likely be altered to make him an even better fighter over the next coming years.
The best of Yan is someone who lets his hands go, as he possesses some of the crispest and most technical striking across the entire UFC. Parlay elite striking with well above-average grappling and easy 5-round cardio, and he is truly a well-rounded problem for any bantamweight to stand against. The issue, with having elite attributes on the feet, solid grappling, and 5-round cardio/experience, is that Yan has fallen victim with trusting himself too much in the octagon, as he is a known slow starter, often giving away round 1 to gather data for the next coming rounds. Knowing the bantamweight is littered with elite challengers, giving away a round is causally related to losing close decisions, so, I fully anticipate this weakness of his to diminish. The result will be a far more aggressive Yan than we have seen before, and if indeed the case, he has more than enough speed, precision, and ultimately, power on the feet to translate this aggression into fight-ending victory.
Merab Dvalishvili, a close friend to the bantamweight champion, Aljamain Sterling, is simply one of my favorite fighters in the UFC. I reference my natural affinity for him not because I am rooting for him against Yan in this particular fight, but to set the stage for his skill breakdown, as it will sound like a boring “neck-beard” style, but in fact, is one of the most electrifying and entertaining styles out there.
Getting into Merab’s traits, he is likely the most relentless wrestlers in the entire UFC. Relentless is the key word here, as he weaponizes his elite of elite cardio accompanied by solid wrestling to put on a pace and pressure through takedown after takedown to secure wins. This may sound like a boring, grind’em-out style, but I assure you that Merab wrestles with a youthful exuberance that is simply exciting to watch.
While the relentless shots will indeed be here in this fight, the main issue he will have is the same that he had in a win against Jose Aldo last fight, that is, difficulty with securing a takedown – Merab was 0/16 against Aldo. The benefit for Merab is that while he failed on securing Aldo to the mat, he still managed to find success in the clinch and ultimately win a decisive victory. But, against Yan, Merab may find it more difficult to keep the clinch secured, and if indeed the case, Merab’s striking will likely fall victim to the more technical and crisp of Yan’s.
Merab is extremely underrated, even after beating a hyper-dangerous, future HOF’er in Jose Aldo. Because of this, I would not be shocked whatsoever if he continues to surprise and beat an opponent who his close friend and training partner, Aljamain Sterling, just beat. But, when it comes to forecasting the bout, I expect Yan to put on a master class here.
My reasoning for this is that he has the takedown defense, Muay Thai clinch game, and most importantly, cardio, to combat what Merab does best. Once combated in the grappling, Yan is leaps and bounds ahead of Merab on the feet, given Merab leaves himself vulnerable to get clipped as he makes his way in to close the distance, and Yan is one of the best fighters at countering lunging style attacks. As such, I expect Yan to land enough clean, powerful strikes to greatly damage Merab, and, has the confidence in his skills needed to continue his attack to find the finish.
Best Bet: Yan by TKO/KO (+260)