LAS VEGAS — They don’t really call Merab Dvalishvili “The Machine” for nothing.
Dvalishvili (16-4) earned the biggest win of his career on Saturday as he dominated former champion petryan (16-5) in a five-round unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night inside The Theater at Virgin Hotels. All three judges scored the 135-pound fight a 50-45 shutout for Dvalishvili, who came in as a 2-1 underdog.
The Georgian bantamweight turned in a historic performance in the win. He attempted a UFC record 49 takedowns, breaking the previous record of 33 set by the former heavyweight champion. Cain Velasquez in 2012, and was successful in 11 of them. According to UFC Stats, Dvalishvili also landed 202 of 401 total punches compared to 87 of 155 for Yan.
“I said before, it was personal for me,” Dvalishvili said. “I tried to keep it professional. My team was telling me I was taking this fight differently. Thank God I made it professional. He called me zero. Who is zero now?”
There was definitely bad blood between the two throughout fight week. Dvalishvili, who has a Georgian flag tattooed on his chest due to the UFC’s recent restriction on fighters walking into the Octagon with his country’s flag, made sure to speak out against Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. Yan fights in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
A large number of Georgia fans turned out for Dvalishvili’s performance on Saturday and enjoyed his victory over a former UFC champion and pound-for-pound candidate.
“I am very proud, thanks to all the Georgians who came here and watched from home,” Dvalishvili said. “We are only five million, but we are strong. I am very happy to be here and represent my country.”
Even those who predicted a Dvalishvili upset would have had a hard time imagining it like that. Dvalishvili stayed on Yan from bell to bell, constantly firing off one-legged takedowns and pulling him close in punching exchanges. He turned every second of the fight into a grueling affair, attacking Yan with kicks, jabs, right hands, clinch knees and elbows.
He appeared to hurt Yan’s lead left leg with a kick in the second round and swelled his right eye with punches midway through the fourth. Yan didn’t seem terribly fatigued by Dvalishvili’s pace, but he seemed extremely uncomfortable with the volume being imposed on him. It is Yan’s fourth loss in his last five appearances after starting his career 15-1.
As for what Saturday’s win sets up for Dvalishvili, that part is less clear. He is a close friend and training partner of the defending champion. sterling aljamainwho also defeated Yan twice in a rivalry that took place between 2021 and 2022. Fighting under Ray Longo and Matt Serra, the two friends have made it clear that they will not fight each other, even if a belt is on the line.
“He’s my brother and the world champion,” Dvalishvili said of Sterling, who was in his corner on Saturday. “Any time he decides to move up in rank and fight whoever is there, after that, I’ll fight for the title. Of course I want to be champion.”
Sterling is scheduled to defend his title against the two-weight champion henry cejudo at UFC 288 on May 6 in Newark, New Jersey.