Merab Dvalishvili has never been Petr Yan’s biggest fan.
Long before Dvalishvili was matched against the former champ at UFC Vegas 71, he was aligned against Yan in the ex-champ’s bout against current UFC bantamweight titleholder Aljamain Sterling. Dvalishvili considers Sterling one of his closest friends and teammates, so it was understandable he would end up in an adversarial position.
But even after Sterling and Yan settled their business in the cage at UFC 273, a random interaction before UFC 280 rubbed Dvalishvili the wrong way.
“When MMA Fighting spotted him in Abu Dhabi, he had just finished getting ready to fight [Sean] O’Malley – it was three days prior. I tried to be respectful,” Dvalishvili said. He was speaking to Aljo and I didn’t want him to get too close. He had a fight, he was cutting weight. He did his thing and I respected him.
“He pointed at me and he said, ‘He’s small.’ I go and stand [near him] like it was funny, I tried to size him up, and then he pointed to me again and he said I’m a zero.”
With Yan preparing for a fight, Dvalishvili said he didn’t want to escalate things, but the exchange definitely didn’t sit well.
“When he said that, the first time I just laughed and got close and sized him up,” Dvalishvili said. After that I smiled huge. He had a great fight. I was polite. I don’t want to mess up his fight or his energy or anything.
” No matter how dumb he may be, he got into a fight and I don’t want him to have to deal with .”
According to Dvalishvili there was already rivalry between Yan and Sterling after back-and forth war of words. This led to the preparation for a pair fights.
Being insulted, even though it was a joke, was another reason why Dvalishvili had never been able to have a good opinion of Yan. He said that he would have told Yan this fact in different circumstances.
” If he did not have a fight I’d slap him,” Dvalishvili stated. “Especially he said right before, when he was getting to Aljo, Petr said — I’m just going to repeat his words — ‘When I see Aljo and Aljo’s team, we will kill and smash his team.’ That’s what he mentioned. As the f ***? said. He wants to smash me.” He wants to smash me.”
In his previous fight, Dvalishvili defeated former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, and that was a fighter the Georgian absolutely admired. The same couldn’t be said about Yan, he said, because the ex-champ doesn’t exude the same kind of class or respect.
“I had such respect for Jose Aldo,” Dvalishvili stated. “For this guy, as a fighter, I respect [him], but as a person not that much. But at the end of the day, I’m a professional fighter. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting, If I’m fighting somebody who’s a legend or somebody who’s an a******, I still have to be professional, and that’s what I’m going to do.
” Just be professional and do your best. I’m going to win, and I’m not going to let any other things bother me.”
Dvalishvili was able to see Yan’s behaviour during Sterling’s fights, which was all that he wanted to know.
“He had been fighting with my friend, and he did an knee to his forehead, but he was still cocky.” Dvalishvili stated about Yan. “He was still raising his hand. He wouldn’t apologize. He shared my tweet, and then made fun of me. Aljo beat Aljo in a tweet and called us clowns. He’s not even humble.
“Most fighters are humble. I don’t think Petr is humble, and he should be more humble. Otherwise, I don’t know. He doesn’t understand the rules. He’s still a skilled fighter but I’m his opponent. That’s it.”
All personal grudges will get set aside on March 11 as Dvalishvili seeks to win his first UFC main event while taking out another top ranked bantamweight. If he’s successful, he’ll keep his winning streak alive, while Yan would drop his third straight fight and four of his past five.
“He’s real dangerous, even with Aljo and with O’Malley, he give hard fights,” Dvalishvili said. “Otherwise, he’s good. Every fight, he brings it and he’s dominant. He is a great fighter, and one of the top in his weight category. He is one of the most dangerous. He is a hard hitting, strong wrestler, and sometimes even shoots people. He’s good.
” I just want to win. For me, winning is all that matters. He is the enemy of my country and I am waiting to take on him. This fight is huge. A big fight for my country. My team won a big fight. Professionalism is what I need. I don’t care if I make him humble, I just want to win.
” I don’t think he should be changed. He is whoever he is. I don’t care about him. I just want to win.”