Brett OkamotoESPN staff writer4 minute reading
LAS VEGAS — Merab Dvalishvili is not called “The Machine” for nothing.
Dvalishvili (16-4) picked up the biggest win of his career on Saturday, dominating former champion Petro Yano (16-5) in a five-round unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night at The Theater at Virgin Hotels. All three judges scored the 135-pound bout a 50-45 shutout for Dvalishvili, who entered as a 2-1 bookies underdog.
The Georgian bantamweight delivered a historic performance in victory. He attempted a UFC-record 49 punches, breaking the previous record of 33 set by former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in 2012, and was successful in 11 of them. According to UFC statistics, Dvalishvili also landed 202 of 401 total punches. shots compared to 87 of 155 by Yan.
“I said before — it was personal for me,” Dvalishvili said. “I tried to be professional. My team told me to take this fight differently. Thank God, I was professional. He called me zero. Who is zero now?”
There was definitely bad blood between the two all fight week. Dvalishvili, who has a Georgian flag tattooed on his chest due to the UFC’s recent ban on fighters walking into the Octagon with his country’s flag, has made it clear that he is speaking out against Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. Yan fights from the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
A large number of Georgian fans responded to Dvalishvili’s performance on Saturday and enjoyed his victory over the former UFC champion and pound-for-pound contender.
“I am so proud, thank you to all the Georgians who came here and are watching from home,” Dvalishvili said. “There are only five million of us, but we are strong. I am so happy to be here representing my country.”
Even those who predicted Dvalishvili’s upset would hardly have imagined that it was like this. Dvalishvili stayed on Yan from bell to bell, constantly firing off one leg and piling him up in striking exchanges. He made every second of the fight a grueling affair, attacking Yan with kicks, punches, right hands, knees from the clinch and elbows.
He appeared to injure Yan’s lead left leg with a punch in the second round and was swelling his right eye with punches midway through the fourth. Yan didn’t look overly fatigued by Dvalishvili’s pace, but he looked extremely uncomfortable with the sheer volume being put on him. It was Yan’s fourth loss in his last five appearances after starting his career 15-1.
As for what Saturday’s win does for Dvalishvili, that part is less clear. He is a close friend and training partner of defending champion Aljamain Sterling, who also defeated Yan twice in the rivalry that ran between 2021 and 2022. Fighting under Ray Long and Matt Serra, the two friends made it clear that they they won’t fight each other, even if the belt is on the line.
“He’s my brother and world champion,” Dvalishvili said of Sterling, who was in his corner on Saturday. “Whenever he decides to move up in weight and fight anybody, I’ll fight for the title after that. Of course I want to be the champion.”
Sterling is scheduled to defend his title against two-division champion Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 on May 6 in Newark.