Petr Yan's quest to get back into the bantamweight title conversation begins Saturday night in Las Vegas against Merab Dvalishvili. The UFC Fight Night five-round main event is between the bantamweight division's No. 2 and No. 3 fighters. Yan, the former champion, lost this belt via DQ to Aljamain Sterling in 2020. Yan failed to reclaim his title when he dropped a decision to Sterling in the rematch, and then watched his opportunity for a third dance with the champ vanish after a decision loss to Sean O'Malley at UFC 280. After being on the wrong end of a controversial scorecard for the second time in three fights, Yan can't afford to drop another fight in a stacked bantamweight division. Dvalishvili, winner of eight straight, poses a formidable challenge with his relentless offensive wrestling.
Yan is currently a -275 favorite, with the buyback on Dvalishvili at +210. Will Yan force his way back into the title picture with a dominant win, or should we bet on Dvalishvili rising to the occasion in the biggest fight of his career? Here is my betting recommendation for Saturday night's main event, plus a few other options on attacking the fight from a betting perspective.
Petr Yan (-275) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (+210)
Yan is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the bantamweight division, and I strongly believe that will be a major factor in Saturday night's outcome. Yan is an explosive striker who has recorded knockdowns against Sterling, Corey Sandhagen and Jose Aldo. However, he also has solid wrestling and several different methods to secure takedowns. In the first matchup versus Sterling, Yan secured six takedowns and did an excellent job of using a combination of powerful low kicks, trips and sweeps to get the current champion to the mat.
Dvalishvili likes to stick to his opponents like crazy glue, and his commitment to his offensive grappling is unmatched. He averages 6.54 takedowns per 15 minutes and has recorded five-plus takedowns in 70% of his UFC fights. However, Yan's 90% takedown defense has been battle-tested against the top of the food chain in the division, and I have confidence he can make Merab spend more time on his feet than ever. And that's not where Merab wants to be with Yan.
Yan is a very cerebral striker, to a fault at times, but also is one of the best at mentally processing his opponents and making in-fight adjustments. Dvalishvili's path is always fueled by his motor. Although the pressure and persistence of this takedowns wear on his opponents, he doesn't have five-round experience. I expect Yan to be able to hold him off early, create distance and really piece him up at range until Dvalishvili becomes desperate. Forcing Dvalishvili to fight outside of his comfort zone early in his first five-round fight could negatively impact his gas tank, especially if he is taking considerable damage. Yan's the fighter with a more diverse skill set and is the rightful favorite at -275. While I played Yan on the moneyline, I think there are some solid bets to make in the prop market.
Value props for each fighter
Peter Yan by KO/TKO or DQ (+250)
Yan doesn't want to be at the mercy of the judges' scorecards again. Yan was very vocal in expressing his displeasure to the UFC after his decision loss to O'Malley. But we know what Dana White always says: "Never leave a fight in the hands of the judges." I think Yan hears him loud and clear now. Expect to see Yan fight much more aggressively with a deeper urgency to get the finish. Yan's massive advantage standing and the five-round duration should allow Yan to get Merab out of there. It's a solid bet Merab slows down after Yan punishes him with his striking, and that ultimately could lead to the ref stepping in to save Dvalishvili.
Merab Dvalishvili by decision (+325)
Nothing in the fight game is guaranteed. The only lock is the cage door when it closes. So, maybe you think Dvalishvili's wrestling will push Yan to gatekeeper status. There is very little reason to bet Merab on the money line at +210 when his path to victory is overwhelmingly to grind out a decision. Out of Dvalishili's eight UFC wins, seven have come by decision. He isn't finishing Yan. Grabbling the extra $1.15 and playing the decision prop at +325 is the bet for Merab backers.
Is it worth a hedge?
The two props above are the most likely outcomes for each fighter. If the fight hits the scorecards after five rounds, it probably means Merab had a good amount of success getting Yan to the ground and controlling the fight. I can see a scenario where Yan peppers Merab on the feet, wins three or more rounds, but isn't able to finish him off. But, I don't think it's very likely. Wagering on both of the above props can be an intriguing way to bet on the fight. You are invested in both fighters, betting against a Yan decision or submission, or Dvalishvili finish. The payout is 1.5 units on Yan KO/TKO (250-100) or 2.25 units on a Dvalishili finish (325-100).
Stats provided by ufcstats.com.