Petr Yan went down to a shock defeat against American underdog Sean O’Malley
Petr Yan’s quest to reclaim the UFC bantamweight title suffered a major setback as the Russian slipped to a split decision defeat against American rival Sean O’Malley at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi.
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Yan never looked fully comfortable throughout the contest with the rangy O’Malley, who enjoyed frequent success with his jab and prevailed 29-28 on two of the three scorecards, while the other scored it 29-28 to Yan.
Yan was the number one contender at 135lbs heading into the fight and was aiming to regroup after losing his title fight rematch against Aljamain Sterling on the scorecards at UFC 273 back in April.
But ‘No Mercy’ ended up enduring a third defeat inside the UFC, never fully reaching the heights against O’Malley which the Russian has displayed so frequently on past visits to the octagon.
The opening stages at the Etihad Arena on Saturday night saw Yan keep his distance against O’Malley as the early exchanges were mostly uneventful.
The Russian backed O’Malley against the cage in a bid to gain control, also landing a slam.
But O’Malley enjoyed success on the feet as his jab found a home – highlighting the awkward proposition he was posing with his reach advantage.
O’Malley came out swinging in the second round as the fight exploded into life. Yan shipped damage but regrouped, pressing his opponent against the cage in a renewed effort to exert pressure.
But O’Malley remained dangerous with his superior reach whenever the fight returned to the center of the cage.
Yan continued to force the pace but was not landing with the kind of fluidity or regularity that has so often been his hallmark.
The Russian had more takedown success to close out the second round, but it was far from the dominance that many had expected from the former champion heading into the bout against his number 11-ranked rival.
O’Malley worked his jab to start round three, keeping Yan at arm’s length. Gradually, ‘Suga’ was enjoying far more joy than Yan as the fight opened up entering the final three minutes.
Yan pressed against the cage again to close out the fight, but O’Malley had done much of the smarter work throughout the contest.
Bleedingly from his right eye, Yan landed with heavy shots to signal the last minute of the fight and finished the contest on top position, but it was clear that the decision would be tight.
So that proved, and it was the dismayed Yan who ended up on the wrong side of a split decision.
UFC president Dana White has been among those to tip the colorful O’Malley for potential superstardom with the promotion, and the biggest scalp of his career improved the American’s career record to 16-1, with one no contest.
The 27-year-old could now find himself thrust into an unlikely bantamweight title shot, with reigning 135lbs ruler Sterling meeting former two-time champion TJ Dillashaw in the co-main event later in the night in Abu Dhabi.
Yan, 29, has slipped further from the glory he enjoyed when capturing the bantamweight crown against Brazilian Jose Aldo in Abu Dhabi in July 2020.
Since then, Yan has lost his title with a controversial disqualification defeat against Sterling, before rebounding impressively against Cory Sandhagen last October and then losing a decision to Sterling in April.
This latest defeat for the Russian will arguably be the most disappointing, as he now desperately seeks a route back to the UFC bantamweight summit.