UFC 261 was a devastating night for China. Three of its fighters lost their debuts on the early prelims before champion Weili Zhang relinquished her strawweight belt after being knocked out by a Rose Namajunas head kick.
But Zhang is not the only Chinese contender competing at 115lbs.Yan Xiaonan has beaten all comers since arriving in the UFC in 2017 and only has only lost one fight since turning pro in 2009.
Looking back at Zhang’s loss she admits to being surprised,
“I was surprised by that result, especially that it ended so quickly. But fights are unpredictable like this.”
That result might have enhanced Yan’s title prospects. There would be limited appetite for an all Chinese title fight between her and Zhang making Namajunas a much more suitable opponent,
“I definitely want to avenge Zhang Weili, and a lot of Chinese fans want me to see me beat Rose.”
Opportunity knocks for the 31-year-old. Currently ranked at #3 in the division, she’s preparing the throw down with #4 ranked Carla Esparza in the co-main event at UFC Vegas 27 this weekend.
“I think this next fight is the most significant fight in my MMA career so far, mainly because the winner is going to have an opportunity to fight for the title,” Yan told Asianmma.com.
Esparza is an interesting challenge for Yan. The American was the first-ever strawweight champion in the UFC and comes into the fight having won her last four in a row.
“Fighting Carla is certainly a challenge, but it’s not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge will be fighting for the title,” Yan said.
Currently riding an 11 fight winning streak, Yan comes into the fight having beaten Claudia Gadelha at UFC Vegas 13. It was another important stepping stone for the Chinese strawweight who also has wins over Angela Hill and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
She acknowledges that this was an important win,
“I was very happy to beat Claudia, she was a great fighter and opponent, so the win meant a lot,” said Yan.
Despite stacking up the wins, the Liaoning-born fighter hasn’t put an opponent away since 2016. But, as long as she keeps winning, it’s not something that bothers her much,
“The fact that I have won via stoppage so often isn’t important to me. What’s important is winning.”
Yan also feels she is becoming more of a threat both with her grappling and her standup,
“I’m a great striker, and my BJJ and wrestling skills have also improved a lot,” she said.
Often fighters are reluctant to speak about fights beyond what’s in front of them. That’s not the case with Yan who has made her intentions absolutely clear,
“I want to fight Rose, and I know I can beat her. This matchup will be super exciting for fans, because we’re both great strikers. She’s good on her feet, but so am I.”
Yan feels she is within touching distance of a title shot. So while Esparza represents a serious obstacle she has ambitions that go well beyond her upcoming fight,
“Winning the title would be the fruition of my biggest dream.”