Former Absolute Championship Berkut champion Petr Yan steps inside the Octagon for the second time this Saturday when he takes on Ultimate Fighting Championship newcomer Jin Soo Son. Yan was one of the hottest bantamweight prospects outside of the UFC for the last two years and now the 25 year-old has the chance to prove he belongs with the best of the best.
Training with Tiger Muay Thai, Yan is already one of the best strikers in the division and has impressive grappling instincts for someone with a striking background. On the feet, Yan is reminiscent of lightweight standout, Justin Gaethje. He keeps his hands high, walks forward and waits for the opponent to initiate exchanges where he can land his go-to counter lead hook.
Although he doesn't have the leg kicks of Gaethje, the high bull guard and willingness to stand in the pocket and look for counters is all Gaethje 101. Since Yan fights in a division that historically lacks power punchers due to size, this style is even more effective since the risk of getting knocked out is significantly less than the higher weight classes. Something to notice in these exchanges is Yan’s stance switches. He will often switch stances while backing up where he can land his counter lead hook from a position the opponent is not expecting.
Yan is a well-rounded striker and doesn't only work on the counter. He’s a nice mix of knowing when to lead and when to sit back and let opponents come to him. Some nights he’s ultra-aggressive looking for the finish and other times he’s patiently countering the entire fight. This makes game planning for him incredibly difficult as you never really know which Yan you’re getting on any given night. Also, notice the variety of his leading attacks. Often when counter strikers are forced to lead first they end up throwing the same combinations since they are not used to setting the pace of the bout. But Yan is just as comfortable on the lead as he is on the counter and has a deep bag of tricks to choose from when doing either.
With his muay Thai background, Yan can dominate in the clinch. Most of his takedowns come from trips and throws in the clinch and he is adept at grabbing double collar ties and throwing knees to the sternum. Something interesting about this part of his game are the entries into the position. Notice how he will sometimes drop his shoulder when opponents lead and let them run into him. This not only avoids the strikes coming at him, but it also forces the opponent into the clinch where Yan can land knees or takedowns.
Yan has struggled with keeping opponents down but his ability to get them there is some of the best in the division. He favors trips and throws in the clinch, but he is not against shooting for double legs against the cage and slamming opponent like Matt Hughes. ACB is full of elite grapplers, which might be the cause of his inability to hold opponents down, but if he can learn to control his opponents on the mat and use some ground-and-pound we might be looking at the most well-rounded prospect in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
When he can keep opponents on the ground, his transitional grappling is miles ahead of what it should be for a young striking-based fighter. At first glance, you might think Yan has a grappling background, but he spent most of his early martial arts career training taekwondo and boxing and only started grappling once he picked up MMA in 2013. At only 25 with a lifetime of martial arts experience, Yan is already looking like a future title challenger just 10 fights into his career. Many think he will struggle at the highest levels, but if the UFC continues to develop him, give him favorable matchups and let him slowly work his way up the ranks we could be looking at an exceptional fighter.