Dvalishvili respects Yan the competitor and family man. But the former champ’s behavior toward Sterling in the buildup to their grudge rematch made it all the more satisfying when Sterling emerged victorious in March.
“First, I never liked Petr Yan, because he was disrespectful to Aljo,” Dvalishvili said on The MMA Hour. “He’s a great fighter – we all know, and as a fighter, I have respect. As a family man, he has kids and a wife, and I respect that. But otherwise, I don’t like him. That’s my personal opinion.”
Sterling responded to Yan’s comments by offering up his room number at the host hotel for the UFC event. That wasn’t needed, as it turns out, because the two camps wound up running into each other, according to Dvalishvili, a surging bantamweight in his own right with seven straight wins.
“In Jacksonville, [Fla.], we did see him at the hotel, but even though I was mad at him, I tell him, ‘You should focus on fight. You have a fight tomorrow,’” Dvalishvili said. “[I said], ‘I don’t want nothing to happen to your fight.’ I wanted to argue with him, and after…I wanted to go after [him].”
Dvalishvili believes Yan was directly addressing him in his threat because he’s never held his tongue about the Russian standout.
“I know he was mentioning me; he doesn’t have any problem with Al Iaquinta or Ray Longo,” the 31-year-old Georgia native said. “He was mentioning me, because I always tell the truth about him, especially Russian media asking me things. I’m always tell them the truth … I’m trying to talk from my heart.”
In the end, Sterling took home a split decision after becoming the first UFC fighter to win a belt via disqualification when Yan illegally kneed him at UFC 259. Dvalishvili decided he didn’t need to have a conversation with Yan afterward.
“When Aljo won the first three rounds, and after, Aljo gave up the last two rounds, I said, ‘It’s OK, we win,’” Dvalishvili said. “‘Enjoy with your family. Don’t come back. Stay in Russia.’”
Sterling should have gotten a shot at the belt earlier when the belt became vacant with Henry Cejudo’s retirement, according to Dvalishvili. It still wound up around the right waist.
Sterling recently said he hopes to defend the belt a few times and then move up to featherweight to allow his longtime teammate the chance to win the belt. That’s one reason why Dvalishvili is eternally loyal to Sterling – and why he’ll fight anyone on the champ’s behalf.
“I’m blessed, I have friends like him,” Dvalishvili said of Sterling’s potential gesture. “What else can I say? It already says everything. He’s a true friend. He’s the best. I learn so much from him, and I’m still learning every day. He’s the reason I fight where I fight now. We’ll never fight each other. I don’t care about the title. I don’t even think about the title yet. As long as Aljo is the champion, he will be champion as long as he wants to be the champion.”