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The pre-fight trash talk between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo has been limited heading into the bantamweight title clash at UFC 251 — and for good reason.
A mutual respect was forged between the two men when Yan traveled to Brazil to train with the former featherweight champion more than four years ago.
"He came to Nova União when I was going to fight against Frankie Edgar. Very young, very raw in the ground. But he was welcomed as any other foreigner who came to help our camps,” Aldo recently told Sherdog.com. “So I don't see any reason for him to say bad things about me. I also went to Russia and he welcomed me there too. But that´s our job.”
Much has changed since then. Aldo has dropped a weight class in hopes of making another title run, and Yan has emerged as one of the top contenders in the bantamweight division. After studying Aldo in preparation for their UFC 251 bout, Yan doesn’t believe he’s seen much evolution from the 33-year-old Brazilian since they trained together.
“It’s been a great experience training with him before. We sparred, we grappled. It was more than four years ago. I think I’m a better fighter since that time, but I don’t think he’s become a better fighter since that time,” Yan said through a translator during a virtual media day on Wednesday. “I think at best, he’s stayed the same.”
Yan doesn’t think those sessions will benefit him much come Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.
“I don’t think that training with him is gonna be a huge advantage for me. There’s so much tape on him, so much video,” Yan said. “He’s pretty much fighting with the same style for all of his years. He’s gonna pressure, he’s gonna use his boxing and low kicks. I don’t think it’s gonna be too much of an advantage for me. Maybe it somehow will affect the fight because he knows me, I know him, but I don’t think it’s gonna make a huge difference.”
Aldo was the first choice of opponent for former 135-pound king Henry Cejudo, but their proposed May booking was scrapped as the coronavirus pandemic took hold around the globe. Instead, Cejudo defeated Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 on May 9 and retired.
Despite a loss in his banamweight debut this past December, Aldo managed to stay in the title bout even with Cejudo out of the picture. For Yan, it doesn’t matter whether he fights Aldo or a top contender like Aljamain Sterling.
“I would’ve fought anyone,” Yan said. “It’s not my decision to make the challengers for the vacant belt. The matchmakers decided that it was gonna be Aldo, and I’m glad it’s Aldo. He’s a very good fighter and a legend of the sport. As they said, Sterling is probably going to be next.”
Yan has maintained his respect for Aldo throughout the build-up to their fight, and he expects that they both will be focused on one primary goal when the Octagon door closes. Their shared past becomes a non-factor with championship gold at stake.
“He didn’t offend me in any way during promotion. Of course we have to promote the fight, but we do respect each other,” Yan said. “Us knowing each other, I don’t think it’s gong to affect the fight. He has a goal to become a champion; I have a goal to become a champion. I don’t think it’s going to affect the fight.”
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