Yan Xiaonan felt like her back was up against the wall as she made the walk to fight Mackenzie Dern in her first UFC main event. She was coming off back-to-back losses in the Octagon and heading into the last fight on her contract, and she couldn’t deny the pressure surrounding the bout. A third consecutive loss would set the 33-year-old on the outside looking in at the title picture, and Yan responded with urgency en route to a majority decision victory.
In retrospect, Yan calls that result a “very important” one in her five-year UFC tenure, and she has perhaps an even more crucial bout on the docket as she is set to face former strawweight champion Jéssica Andrade at UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo.
“I think everybody saw my performance in my last fight (and knows) I can handle every scenario during the fight,” Yan told UFC.com through a translator. “I think all the fighters who are ranked above me are in danger now.”
The fight is particularly crucial in terms of giving some order to the queue to fight champ Zhang Weili in the near future. Andrade – who bounces between strawweight and flyweight regularly – desperately wants another shot at Zhang, and she carries an extra sense of urgency heading into this fight after dropping a short-notice assignment to Erin Blanchfield in February.
Yan said after her losing skid, she leaned on her work ethic and fortified her trust in herself. That, paired with a focus on listening to her coaches throughout a fight, cemented her at the top of what is probably the deepest women’s division.
Against Andrade, Yan feels like she is fighting someone with the same approach as her. The former champ holds the strawweight record for knockouts recorded at 115 pounds, but Yan believes in her footwork, her chin and technical proficiency to deliver an action-packed contest for 15 minutes.
“I think this fight will go to decision because both of us are very hard to be knocked down,” Yan said. “We both have a hard chin, but it doesn’t mean the fight won’t be exciting. It’s going to be a very exciting fight.
“I think (Andrade) is very aggressive and very violent. She can hit very hard, and she is going to throw a lot of combinations, so I think that this the biggest challenge I am going to face in the Octagon.”
A win over Andrade – in Yan’s eyes – is one she believes puts her on the edge for a title shot. Her victory over Dern showed her immense improvements in the grappling department, and beating perhaps the most powerful fighter in the division makes for a rock-solid resume.
A title fight against Zhang is not only a fascinating stylistic matchup, but also one that would pit China’s top two female fighters against one another. Yan said that is “nothing really special” but does acknowledge the cool opportunity on the table if the fight does eventually happen.
More than anything, Yan is appreciative of the fact that she is very much in the discussion to fight for gold. Beating a former champion is a big feather to put in one’s cap, especially when that former champion is very much still in the mix.
In Newark, New Jersey, China’s first female fighter can take a gigantic step toward the ultimate goal.
“When I got into the UFC, (that was my dream),” she said ”Since then, I stepped forward and started to dream, ‘OK, maybe one day I can become the UFC champion,’ so if I can fight for the title and become the champion eventually, that would be a dream come true.”
UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo took place live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass