Russian bantamweight star Petr Yan says he will do whatever it takes to be available for a UFC title fight after promotion boss Dana White said Yan had earned a direct crack at the belt vacated by Henry Cejudo on Saturday.
Cejudo became only the second man ever – after Daniel Cormier – to successfully defend titles at two different weights when he stopped Dominick Cruz in the dying seconds of the second round of their co-main at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida.
But in his post-fight interview at the behind-closed-doors event, Cejudo promptly shocked fans with the announcement that he was retiring at the age of 33.
Some speculated that the move was merely a ruse to draw the UFC into negotiations on boosting pay – although promotion supremo Dana White said in his own post-event press conference that he would soon sit down with matchmakers to determine who would fight it out for the vacant title.
White immediately revealed that one man who will definitely get a title tilt is Russia’s Yan, who has ripped through the division with six wins in six fights since making his UFC bow a little under two years ago.
READ MORE: ‘It’s Petr Yan and somebody’: UFC chief Dana White confirms Russian bantamweight to get title shot after Henry Cejudo retirement
The names Yan has been most widely tipped to face are fellow surging contenders Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen, while Yan initially responded to the news by tweeting that he “doesn’t care” who his opponent is.
I’m very happy to hear this news @danawhite Just tell me when and where, I don’t care who’s the opponent. My goal is to win the belt and become undisputed champion ✊? https://t.co/cXUR683vKB
And discussing his newly-announced title shot in more detail, Yan – who fights with the ‘Archangel Michael’ team in Ekaterinburg – said he would do whatever it takes to be ready for a title bout, including if that meant getting around Covid-19 restrictions by paddling to the location.
“I was driving when I my manager called me and asked if I’d heard the news about the title fight,” Yan told Vestnik MMA from his current base in Thailand.
“I said I was driving so I didn’t hear anything, but then I started getting tons of phone calls and messages from my friends and teammates.
“I even felt hot, I was really happy. If it’s true and it’s really happening – I’ll do my best to make the most of this opportunity.”
Speaking about a potential date, Yan, 27, suggested it could be as early as the next one or two months.
“From what I understand, there are tournaments in May and June. I’m just hoping that I will be able to leave Thailand some time around June.
“But if not I’ll sail away on a boat to fight for the title. I’ll paddle all the way!”
As for his preferred opponent, Yan said he and Sterling could “put on a great fight” but did not dismiss other contenders at 135lbs.
“[Marlon] Moraes is a tough guy, a good fighter, but he fought for the title in his last fight, so I don’t think that he’ll be given that chance again right away,” said the man known as ‘No Mercy’.
“There are some guys with winning streaks such as (Aljamain) Sterling, who’s a good fighter with a variety of techniques… me and him are not the most hyped-up fighters, but we’re young and can put on a great fight.
“I think if we promote that fight in the right way it could be big. Cory Sandhagen is also a good, young and promising fighter. And of course Jose Aldo. He’s one of the best of all time.”
With Dana White and his fellow matchmakers set to meet next week, we may not have to wait too long before we know who exactly will be lining up across the octagon from Yan when he gets his long-awaited shot at UFC gold.