If Claudia Gadelha and Yan Xiaonan clash at UFC Fight Night 182 in Las Vegas this weekend, it will be a competition that could sway the country’s future lie in the upper reaches of the £ 115 ranks.
On one side of the octagon is Gadelha, a fighter who has already tried what it feels like to contest UFC gold and who is determined to rebuild her chances of dining at the top table again.
She will face Yan, a Chinese contender who has been unbeaten for a decade and is desperate for a shot at Zhang Weili – her compatriot who currently rules the UFC’s strawweight division.
For the winner, the spoils and the chance that her name will be pronounced louder and louder in the £ 115 title talk will be; for the loser, slipping back on the greasy straw weight bar and the prospect of a lengthy mess.
This was a bout originally scheduled for September on the undercard at UFC 253 on Fight Island, but pushed back when Gadelha injured a knee in training.
This weekend’s venue will be the UFC’s Apex facility, but while the location will be different, the goals for both fighters will remain largely the same.
Yan rolls into the competition unbeaten in five bouts since she made her UFC bow in 2017. The last time she dominated Poland’s Karolina Kowalkiewicz in February to secure a unanimous decision victory – the same result that any of the Fury’s octagon games have achieved so far.
Aside from a no contest against Emi Fujino at Road FC in 2014, Yan’s only flaw in her 14-man professional career remains the loss to Karina Hallinan at Martial Combat 10 a little more than a decade ago.
For Gadelha, who is a fan favorite in her seventh year with the UFC and preparing for a 23rd professional MMA competition, Saturday night is the chance to continue the momentum she has built with back-to-back wins against Randa Markos and Angela Hill, the later one coming, has built over a wear and tear in May.
Both Yan and Gadelha will attempt to get close to a belt shot around the waist of Zhang Weili, who became China’s first UFC champion, when she stunned Jessica Andrade in Shenzhen in August 2019 and has since defended her title in a classic all time against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
While Zhang will face former champion Rose Namajunas next year and Polish thug Jedrzejczyk is also an inevitable part of any title talk, Yan and Gadelha will do no harm to their own prospects this weekend in Las Vegas.
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“I know that if I win this fight, there is a chance that I will fight Weili,” Yan told the South China Morning Post.
“This is the direction I want to go. We know each other, of course, even though we’re not close friends.
“We’re in different gyms but I’ve been watching them like everyone else. I think I’m faster than them so I can beat them. I think a lot about how to beat them.
“Because we’re both Chinese, I think I know how to fight them better than anyone else and I know how to beat them.”
31 year old Gadelha will be an impressive roadblock on this path.
‘Claudinha’ has been there very often, and (almost) did so, when he fought strawweight women in the UFC’s first match in 2014, before suffering a miss for gold in a bitter rematch against then champion Jedrzejczyk in 2016.
Yan knows that beating the battle-hardened Brazilian – currently four places above her in fourth place on the £ 115 women’s ranking – would be a significant scalp on her résumé.
“With Claudia everything revolves around their argument. That is the most dangerous thing for me,” said Yan about the black belt of the BJJ, which awaits her on Saturday evening.
“But for me I have my boxing, my hands and my footwork. You will make the difference. They are the key elements because I think I am a lot faster than Claudia. I’ll use my feet and my pace to hit them. “
Yan’s preparations took place at the Team Alpha Male gym set up by UFC legend Urijah Faber in Sacramento, California, which the Chinese fighter says is the ideal setting for planning Gadelha’s fall.
“I don’t feel like I was visiting, I feel like I belong there and Urijah was great,” Yan told the SCMP.
“He worked with my wrestling and gave me tips on how to fight Claudia and I think that will help me a lot. My physical and mental condition is very good. I feel better than ever.”
“Working with Urijah has helped build the trust I need to fight someone like Claudia, a grappler.”
Gadelha’s own message to the 934,000 social media followers during fight week was humble.
“The main thing here is to be humble, grow, appreciate yourself and why. Always remember why you are doing what you are doing. This is your superpower. Superheroes are people,” wrote the Brazilian.
Many may find such a talk of “superpowers” appropriate, given the current consensus among MMA fans that dethroning Zhang will likely take an inordinate effort by the straw weight of UFC women – but either Gadelha or Yan are at least getting closer be on it An opportunity to try when things get done and dusted in Las Vegas on Saturday night.