For years now, virtually anyone affiliated with Tiger Muay Thai would invariably speak in gushing terms about the immense talent of Petr Yan.
The Phuket-based gym already boasts two UFC champions in Alexander Volkanovski and Valentina Shevchenko and a victory for Petr Yan at UFC 251 would complete an impressive hat-trick.
The Russian arrived on the sun-baked island in the south of Thailand when his professional career was just beginning. But at 21 years old, he knew that in this tropical haven far from home, he’d found the perfect place to foster his talent.
‘The first time I came to Tiger Muay Thai was in 2014 and at the time I had only had one professional fight. I really liked it from the first visit, I liked the atmosphere over there. I like that I can just concentrate and focus on the fight camp. The fruit, the weather, the beaches, and massages were also a bonus for me.’
Rising to prominence in his native Russia with ACB, he won the bantamweight Grand Prix in 2015 before avenging his only-ever professional loss against Magomed Magomedov to clinch the bantamweight title two years later.
Following a successful defence of his crown, he was snapped up by the UFC.
A perfect run of six straight wins followed; the last of which was a famous KO victory over Hall of Famer, Urijah Faber to earn him a shot at the vacant 135lbs title against the legendary Jose Aldo.
‘I managed to have six fights in eighteen months in the UFC and my career was progressing very quickly. In the fight with Faber, I pretty much knew what he was going to do in my fight camp, so I prepared well for him and managed to finish him. I believe in myself. I believe that I deserve to be the champion. If I’m not going to believe in myself, who else is going to believe in me? I always tell myself that if you want to be in the UFC if you want to be the champion you have to beat the next person standing in front of you. Doesn’t matter if it’s Jose Aldo or someone else.’
Coming into this fight on the back of two losses, Aldo’s merit as a contender has been brought into question by fans and media with many believing that the number 2 ranked Aljamain Sterling is the more worthy opponent.
‘I would have fought Sterling too. I would have fought anyone. It’s not my decision. I’m also a challenger for the vacant belt. The UFC matchmakers decided Aldo and I’m glad it’s Aldo. He’s a very good fighter and a legend of the sport and they said Sterling’s probably going to be next, so we can find out.’
Aldo, who once trained with Yan is the more familiar adversary. The former featherweight champion is an old sparring partner.
‘It was a great experience training with him before. We sparred, we grappled. It was more than four years ago, and I’ve become a better fighter since that time, but I don’t think he’s gotten any better since then. I think at best, he’s stayed the same. We respect each other. He didn’t offend me in any way during the promotion. Of course, we had to promote the fight, but we do respect each other. Us knowing each other I don’t think is going to affect the fight. He has a goal of becoming champion; I have a goal of becoming champion and it’s going to make for a good fight.’
Focus on the task at hand is of paramount importance to the 28-year-old Yan, and he doesn’t mind how the win comes, as long as he gets the job done.
‘We’ll see how the fight goes – if I have a chance to knock him out, I will do it. If I beat him by decision, I will take it too. My goal is to win, and I don’t care how I do it.’