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The Weekly Takedown: Petr Yan yearns to win back UFC bantamweight title a third time

With a shot at the division title on the line, Yan predicts 'an early finish' Saturday night against Sean O'Malley at UFC 280.
petr-yan

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

If not for his own recklessness, Petr Yan would likely be the one defending the bantamweight title this Saturday in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Yan competes against Sean O'Malley at UFC 280. The winner will be next in line for a crack at the belt, which reigning champion Aljamain Sterling defends on the very same card against T.J. Dillashaw.

After defeating Jose Aldo to win the title in the summer of 2020, Yan then defended the belt against Sterling in March of 2021. It was a one-sided affair, with Yan completely eviscerating Sterling. But as the fourth round was nearing its conclusion, Yan interrupted fate by drilling Sterling with a vicious illegal knee to the cranium. That immediately got Yan disqualified, costing him the title in the process.

Instead of winning by unanimous decision and removing Sterling from the title equation, the two engaged in a rematch this past April. That was a title unification bout – Yan had defeated Cory Sandhagen for the interim title – and Sterling won that fight, removing Yan, at least temporarily, from the championship.

Earlier this week while preparing for his fight at 280, Yan was asked whether he regrets that unnecessary knee to Sterling's head.

"I have no regrets," says Yan, who spoke through a translator. "No regrets. My focus is on making history by winning the belt for a third time."

Yan (16-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) enters the bout against O'Malley (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) having lost two of his last three. But all hope is not lost for his championship pursuit following UFC President Dana White's announcement that the winner of this bout will be the next challenger for the title. That opens a clear path for Yan to regain his place as the top bantamweight in the world.

"It's good news that this is for a title shot, but the goal stays the same," says Yan. "I have to win. The title shot is an extra bonus.

"I have to go through this fight in order to get the belt. Everything else doesn't matter. That's why I can't focus on the past. I have to look forward."

O'Malley is a dangerous kickboxer, especially against a shorter opponent. Yet he is sorely unproven against the caliber of someone of Yan's stature. If this fight moves to the ground, O'Malley will be in a dire position.

"I cannot say I respect him," Yan says. "He is my opponent. He is my competition.

"I'm ready for him. This will be an early finish."

Will Jon Jones fight in 2022?

jon-jones

Jon Jones has been talking about a move to heavyweight since 2013.

Will that finally happen before the end of the year?

There are rumors that Jones is entertaining offers from the UFC regarding a fight this December. That would take place at UFC 282 in Las Vegas, a fitting spot for Jones to return for his first fight since February of 2020.

While speculation of Jones' comebacks most often ends with angry tweets and inactivity, there is momentum growing for a bout in December.

Jones likes to fight at the end of the year, and this would be a massive payday and a chance to finally make a lasting statement in the heavyweight division. But even if Jones is willing to return, a major issue is his opponent.

Despite the revenue it would generate, sources close to the UFC have shared that the organization is cool on the idea of Jones against Stipe Miocic. The perfect choice is Francis Ngannou, but he will need a new contract and a whole lot more money to even consider that fight.

Moving to heavyweight and winning the belt would further solidify Jones' legacy. Jones has his detractors, and rightfully so as he has made a slew of bad decisions, but it would be a can't-miss moment if he were to step back into the octagon, especially against Ngannou. There is no better way to headline 282.

The Pick 'Em Section:

UFC 280 lightweight title bout: Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev

  • Pick: Charles Oliveira

UFC 280 bantamweight title bout: Aljamain Sterling (c) vs. TJ Dillashaw

  • Pick: Aljamain Sterling

UFC 280 bantamweight bout: Petr Yan vs. Sean O'Malley

  • Pick: Petr Yan

UFC 280 lightweight bout: Beneil Dariush vs. Mateusz Gamrot

  • Pick: Beneil Dariush

UFC 280 women's flyweight bout: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Manon Fiorot

  • Pick: Raphael Assunção

UFC 280 welterweight bout: Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady

  • Pick: Belal Muhammad

Last week: 4-0

2022 record: 119-64

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.