Russian UFC star explains why he was without flag for title fight
Yan did not carry the Russian flag into the cage when he faced bitter rival Aljamain Sterling in Florida last month
UFC star Petr Yan says he did not appear with the Russian flag at his title rematch with Aljamain Sterling in the US last month because he did not want to “provoke” the crowd.
Yan and bitter rival Sterling clashed for a second time when they met at UFC 273 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville on April 9.
The showdown was a re-run of the pair’s contentious meeting of 12 months previously, when Yan lost his bantamweight title after landing an illegal knee strike on his rival.
In Florida it was Sterling who again had his hand raised after the Jamaican-American shaded victory on the scorecards in a result that some – including UFC boss Dana White – called into question.
A notable difference to Yan’s previous visits to the Octagon was the absence of the Russian flag, which he usually proudly parades before and after fights.
Amid the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, Yan explained to reporters in Russia on Friday why he had not flown the tricolor on this occasion.
“Before our tournament it already wasn’t allowed to go out with flags,” said Yan, according to Match TV.
“Although no one said they forbid it. If you remember the previous tournaments, there were situations when people in the crowd whistled.
“We did it so as not to provoke people or the public. Everyone knows where I’m from. We just avoided a provocative moment.”
The UFC has allowed its stable of Russian fighters to continue to compete freely, although there has been no official statement on its flag policy.
Yan had faced issues ahead of the fight when members of his corner team were reportedly denied US visas.
The Florida defeat for ‘No Mercy’ was a tough one to take, not least because of the back-and-forth he has engaged in with Sterling online for period that their rivalry has been simmering.
The Siberian star said he still doesn’t consider Sterling to be the legitimate ruler of the UFC’s 135lbs ranks.
“I don't see him as champion. I had two fights with him. I wouldn’t say that he did something champion-like either in the first or in the second fight.
“Yes, he said before the fight that this would be the biggest robbery. And so it happened.
“Well done to him, he believes in his strength and visualizes it. But I still can’t consider him a champion. Maybe I’ll arrive at this later.”
Yan, whose losses to Sterling are the only blemishes in his 10-fight UFC career, joked that there was “still something clownish” about his rival, but “it’s not bad – clowns are also funny.”
Attention has turned to what comes next for Yan as he seeks to recapture the UFC gold he originally won by defeating Brazilian legend Jose Aldo at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi the summer of 2020.
Yan, 29, revealed he has five fights left on his current UFC deal, with names such as former two-weight champion Henry Cejudo being touted as the American claims to be gearing up for a return from retirement.
“Since he decided to return and got into the [USADA] testing pool, it means that something is planned,” said Yan of the man with whom he has traded online barbs.
“We all know why he does it [writes to me]. It’s just a simple [online] skirmish. There’s nothing personal. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the top 5. If he wants, we can fight.”
Yan stressed that the priority for his next contest would be someone from the bantamweight top five, admitting that Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera – who defeated Rob Font last weekend for a third win on the spin – would be “interesting.”
“He’s dangerous, it would be interesting for me to fight him,” said Yan.
Former champion TJ Dillashaw, now returned from a doping ban, would also be a draw for the Russian, although the American has engaged in a public callout with Sterling in recent weeks, stoking talk of a showdown.
“Anything is possible. But I'm more inclined that Dillashaw will win,” said Yan when asked who would prevail in a match-up between Sterling and Dillashaw.