Few fighters have made as much of an immediate impact as Petr Yan; the Absolute Championship Berkut import made his debut with the UFC in June 2018, and fought thrice before the year was up. For all the expectations that some had of “No Mercy”, he has yet to disappoint; Yan’s absolute obliteration of Teruto Ishihara was followed by a beating on Jin Soo Son, and Yan’s first crack at the top 15 ended in a “no mas” from the corner of Douglas Silva de Andrade. The violence that the Siberian embodies is exceeded only by the skill he has shown in the process, and the UFC has given him an opportunity to rocket to legitimate contendership with his fight in Prague.
On the other hand, perennial contender John Dodson has been on a different track; alternating wins and losses since 2015, Dodson seems to be as athletic as ever but also unwilling to take the initiative as often as he used to. Dodson’s last win over Pedro Munhoz was encouraging, looking at Munhoz’s current success, but it was still a performance that showed Dodson’s inability to pull the trigger and gun for the finish (even while in full control). Dodson looks to defeat one of the strongest prospects that the division has ever seen, and maybe get himself back into the conversation as a bantamweight who deserves bigger opportunities.
John Dodson’s game is deceptively shallow for how successful he’s been in relatively strong divisions; “The Magician” has wins over fighters as great as Jussier Formiga and TJ Dillashaw, but there isn’t a great deal to be said about his technical approach despite that. Dodson’s best asset throughout his career has been raw speed; as a southpaw, the default approach of Dodson has generally been to cut to an outside angle and sprint at his opponent with left hands that are relatively powerful for 125/135. This isn’t to say Dodson is totally devoid of striking craft; one notable example saw Dodson enter with hooks to the body of Formiga to take his head off with a left hook afterwards. However, Dodson’s game largely depends on being able to enter and exit at speeds that severely inhibit countering opportunities.
Trying to counter Dodson isn’t really viable for anyone but the sharpest counterpunchers (such as Marlon Moraes or Jimmie Rivera) who can time him perfectly; generally, the opponents of Dodson are intimidated by the handspeed and footspeed coming at them, and just try to run backwards as he blitzes forward. Dodson can take most fighters out on the lead as he runs forward, run them to the fence and deal damage there (as he did to break the face of John Moraga as Moraga had nowhere to go and ducked into a knee), or just outpoint them as they can’t pin him down. Even current top contender Moraes got dropped early by Dodson’s double-left before he had a chance to grasp Dodson’s timing. “The Magician” has one of the more athleticism-dependent games at the lower weight classes, but it works; be it by finish or by decision, Dodson has gotten it done against the majority of his opponents. He’s grown more conservative, but he’s still an effective mid-ranked contender at 135.
Dodson’s opponent in Prague is one of the most promising prospects that bantamweight has seen in a very long time; Petr Yan has dominated on his path to becoming a ranked contender at 135, and his showings have been strong despite his competition getting stiffer.
Yan’s UFC debut turned out to be a showcase of what a perfect Yan fight looked like; Yan gave Teruto Ishihara no more space than was absolutely necessary, pressuring him very well and pushing him back with feints and right hands. Inside five minutes, Ishihara was drowned by the pressure; Yan’s defense was strong enough that he didn’t have to break up the pressure as Ishihara threw to back him off, and Yan was ferocious and powerful in the pocket. Yan also looked like a uniquely effective switch-hitter in this fight; Yan had run Ishihara to the fence from orthodox, but as Ishihara was able to break off the fence to reset, Yan had stepped into southpaw with a right hook and cracked Ishihara with a clean overhand left before he could process the shift.
The skill in Yan’s striking was even more evident as he faced Douglas Silva de Andrade; then-#14 ranked DSDA wasn’t ever supposed to hang with Yan as a technical striker, but his power and grappling were meant to pose a challenge to Yan as he looked to enter the top 15. Instead, Yan just totally whitewashed him everywhere the fight went. Of particular note against de Andrade was Yan’s jab; Yan feinted the jab early to set up the rear hand, and then started jabbing to cover distance and build off into combinations. For example, one of the cleanest shots Yan landed in the first round was actually as de Andrade was on the retreat; Yan threw a lead hook off the jab that put de Andrade on the back foot, and capitalized with a shifting right hand that caught de Andrade as he stepped straight backwards. The next exchange saw de Andrade trying to stand his ground and counter, only to bite on the jab and eat a 2-1.
Yan’s defensive boxing also looked excellent in his last fight; not only did most of de Andrade’s big right hands sail over the head of Yan, de Andrade’s later attempts to jab with Yan led to even less success. One sequence saw de Andrade look to jab off a failed takedown attempt, only for Yan to slip to the outside, uncork a venomous right hand to the body, and follow him as he retreated for another shifting right hand that landed clean. Yan’s offensive footwork was in rare form against de Andrade, especially in the second round; there was a point where Yan switched stances in response to an Andrade right hand to line up the left, only to switch quickly back to orthodox and lead with the right for another clean connection. Soon afterwards, Yan weaved off the orthodox 1-2 to hide his step forward, and threw a second consecutive 1-2 from southpaw. Even at a division as strong (especially on the striking front) as bantamweight, Petr Yan can justifiably be called a top striker with only three UFC fights to his name.
Conclusions and Capping
In most ways, Petr Yan is a very difficult fight for John Dodson; Yan is a good enough counterpuncher that Dodson’s relatively formulaic approach is bound to get figured out as the fight goes long, and Yan has the pressuring ability to force Dodson into a corner. If Yan could soundly pressure Dodson, he’s likely to have a relatively simple task; if Dodson can’t find a way off the fence, it gives Yan the opportunity to counterpunch as he knows approximately when Dodson has to explode to get out. In fact, that was the crux of Dodson’s win over Munhoz; Munhoz didn’t find it too difficult to walk Dodson to the fence, Dodson just uncorked a flurry each time to force Munhoz into the defensive as he got away. Yan is both faster and better as a counterpuncher than Munhoz, and can do a lot of damage with an opponent pushed against the fence; the longer the fight goes, the more unlikely that Dodson finds a counter that Yan isn’t ready for, and the more damage that Dodson will have taken (especially to the body by way of Yan’s straight, which could do a great deal to mute the effectiveness of Dodson’s rushes).
Dodson has the speed and power that none of Yan’s previous opponents have shown, but it’s difficult to consider that an independent reason for favoring him against Yan. It’s entirely possible that Yan shifts at the wrong time and eats a left hand to go down for the count, but from all of the evidence currently available, Yan should be favored.
Prediction: Petr Yan via unanimous decision. This writer caps Yan at -200.