Yan Xiaonan still has lofty expectations of herself in the Strawweight division.
Riding the first losing streak of her 14-year career, Yan saw a long 13-fight unbeaten streak snapped against the now champion, Carla Esparza, in May 2021. With six of her wins coming in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) going into the bout, a title shot was well within grasp.
Atop the division during the tail-end of Yan’s streak was her fellow countrywoman from China, Zhang Weili. The great success each built provided the promotion with the strong possibility of a title fight overseas. Unfortunately for that hope, Zhang was toppled a month before Yan was set back versus Esparza.
Now, Zhang is set to try and reclaim the crown on Nov. 12, 2022, at UFC 281 against Esparza while Yan aims for eventual redemption over that dream scenario with Zhang.
“Carla, I would [prefer] revenge,” Yan told MMA Mania. “My fight against Carla is the most terrible fight in my career so I want the rematch so badly. She’s the toughest opponent I’ve ever faced.
“I think Weili [wins against Esparza],” she continued. “In my eyes, Weili has more of a chance to win this title fight because even [though] Carla — her wrestling is great, it’s very good, but I think Weili is strong. Weili is very strong and so hard to take down, so I think Weili has more chance to win this fight.”
To get closer to either Esparza or Zhang, Yan will first have to get through, Mackenzie Dern, in her first UFC main event appearance at UFC Vegas 61 on Oct. 1, 2022.
Dern is one of the rare fighters in mixed martial arts (MMA) who has such a superior talent to everyone around her that it’s always clear what her goal is: get the fight to the ground. Against Yan, it’s a clear striker versus grappler affair and “Fury” won’t look to mess around in the danger zone.
“It’s very obvious, nothing I need to deny,” Yan said of Dern’s skillset. “She’s a very high-level jiu-jitsu player and my striking skill is better than hers. So yeah, I want to win this game on the feet and outstrike her. That’s the game plan.
“If I am a normal and intelligent person, I won’t choose to go to the ground and try to grapple with her,” she concluded. “So, my goal is to win this fight so I will choose to fight on the feet and to make this a striking game and not take any risks to get on the ground.”