One could make a strong argument that the men’s bantamweight division is currently the most exciting division in the UFC, although no one is going to say it’s the most stable. Over the past decade there have been a number of interim titleholders and the belt has been either vacated or stripped from multiple different champions for various reasons.
Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will compete for the vacant title at UFC 251 on Fight Island in what should be an absolute cracker, with the winner hopefully bringing some stability to the 135-pound weight class.
Henry Cejudo announced his retirement and vacated the title in April after defeating Dominick Cruz at UFC 249. At that post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White was asked who he thought would end up competing for the newly-vacated belt later in the year. White wasn’t exactly sure of the matchup but insisted Yan would be one of the participants.
Aldo was initially slated to fight Cejudo at that event but COVID-related travel issues rendered the Brazilian unable to get to the United States and he was replaced by Cruz, so that’s why the UFC ended up deciding Yan vs. Aldo was a fitting matchup.
Yan has beaten all six of his UFC opponents with relative ease since debuting with the organization two years ago – three wins by knockout, three by unanimous decision. Although he’s officially ranked No. 3 in the division behind Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling, many fans and pundits consider Yan to be the future of the division.
Meanwhile, Aldo is a featherweight legend who decided to move down and try his luck at bantamweight in 2019. Aldo actually lost his debut at 135 pounds but since it was widely considered a controversial split decision loss to the No. 1-ranked Moraes, plus the fact the division is in flux at the moment, he was awarded the chance to win his second UFC title.
With that in mind here’s a closer look at this intriguing matchup.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Nickname: No Mercy
Fighting out of: Phuket, Thailand via Yekaterinburg, Russia
Weight: 135 pounds
Arm reach: 67 inches
Leg reach: 38 inches
Average fight time: 11:32
MMA record: 14-1
UFC record: 6-0
Notable wins: Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera, John Dodson
Notable Accomplishments: Former Absolute Championship Berkut (ABC) bantamweight champion; ABC Grand-Prix winner; two UFC post-fight bonuses (one Fight of the Night, one Performance of the Night); earned Master of Sport classification for boxing in Russia
Fighting out of: Manaus, Brazil
Weight: 135 pounds
Arm reach: 70 inches
Leg reach: 40 inches
Average fight time: 13:14
Background: Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu
MMA record: 28-6
UFC record: 10-5
Notable wins: Frankie Edgar (x2), Chad Mendes (x2), Chan Sung Jung, Urijah Faber, Cub Swanson; Mike Brown; Jeremy Stephens
Notable Accomplishments: First UFC featherweight champion; most UFC featherweight title defences; youngest champion in WEC history; last WEC featherweight champion; longest WEC winning streak; nine UFC/WEC post-fight bonuses (four Fight of the Night, five Performance of the Night); Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
This style matchup has the makings of a standup war. Yan is a terrific boxer by MMA standards with power in both hands and excellent balance regardless of which foot is forward. His switch-stance style helps him effectively cut off the cage.
Aldo is always aggressive and has legendary killer instinct when he has his opponent hurt. Aldo has some of the most vicious leg kicks in MMA but in recent years he has gotten away from that with 70 per cent of the strikes he throws being headshots. Only 15 per cent of his strikes are to the legs and 15 per cent to the body. Against Yan, he would benefit from establishing his kicking game.
In recent bouts Aldo has shown an affinity for lunging hooks to the body. Whenever he does this he leaves himself open to a counter but when they land they can completely change the momentum of a fight – just ask Jeremy Stephens.
B R U T A L
— UFC (@ufc) July 7, 2020
If it stays on the feet it could simply come down to whose chin holds up. In that regard you’d have to give the slight advantage to Yan, a methodical fighter with nerves of steel. When he does attack, though, he overwhelms you and lands 5.65 significant strikes per minute. He has been training at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand in preparation for Aldo.
Yan hasn’t fought a striker as dangerous or accomplished as Aldo but don’t expect him to be intimidated in the slightest. He fights like he has zero respect for his opponents. We saw that when he embarrassed Urijah Faber at UFC 245 before getting in Cody Garbrandt’s face backstage.
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) July 5, 2020
Yan has some impressive wrestling and is strong in the clinch but he will have a difficult time getting Aldo to the ground if he chooses to go that route. Yan secures 1.73 takedowns per 15 minutes at 53 per cent accuracy, however Aldo has some of the best takedown defence in UFC history at 91 per cent and when he is taken to the mat, he doesn’t stay there very long.
Aldo is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and Yan has a blue belt but each fighter only has one submission win on their record so either fighter getting tapped out would be a shocking result.
THEY HAVE A HISTORY
Believe it or not these two fighters have trained together in the past. Yan helped Aldo prepare for one of his past fights with Frankie Edgar at Aldo’s home Nova Uniao gym in Brazil. Aldo also trained with Yan in Russia.
Yan said earlier this week via a translator during a virtual UFC 251 media day that he has gotten much better since they trained together but he doesn’t think Aldo has evolved much over the years.
“We sparred, we grappled. It was more than four years ago. I think I’m a better fighter since that time, but I don’t think he’s become a better fighter since that time,” Yan said. “I think at best, he’s stayed the same.”
Aldo told Sherdog.com Yan was “very young” and “very raw” on the ground when they trained but that he welcomed him into his gym and doesn’t “see any reason for him to say bad things about me.”
The rising Russian star only has one blemish on his professional record, a split decision loss to Magomed Magomedov for the Absolute Championship Berkut championship in a bout that promotion named its fight of the year in 2016. Thirteen months later Yan avenged that loss and won a unanimous decision over Magomedov. All that is to say, no one has really figured out the formula to beat Yan.
Aldo, on the other hand, has gone 3-5 in the past five year but 80 per cent of those losses were to current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, former champions Max Holloway (twice) and Conor McGregor. Considering how good Aldo looked against Moraes and how good he says he feels physically in his new weight class, it would be ignorant to dismiss his chances against Yan.