Coming off a big win just four days ago in Sioux Falls, Rani Yahya is already eyeing his next fight. He submitted newcomer Matthew Lopez, who came off of Dana White’s ‘Lookin for a Fight’ show in a thrilling back and forth fight.
The third round arm triangle finish marked Yahya’s 17th career submission win as the 3 time world jiu-jitsu champion put on a beautiful display of grappling. With no opponent in mind, Yahya would love to fight in his hometown of Brasilia.
Seeming to have found his groove at bantamweight, Yahya put on another impressive performance when he took out undefeated prospect Matthew Lopez. To the surprise of many, Lopez took a gamble when he willingly went to the ground with Yahya throughout the fight which ended up costing him. Lopez may have been right in Yahya’s world but he was able to hold his own.
“I knew it was going to be a tough fight,” Yahya said. “My game plan was to strike to loosen him up a little bit and then take him to the ground and finish. That was my plan A. I also knew the fight could take other directions which ended up happening. He tried to submit me a few times which was actually making my job easier because he was accepting the ground game. I knew he had some good submission skills.”
Another surprise was Yahya’s much improved striking where he used his strikes to set up his grappling. Despite being a veteran of the game, he came in as a slight underdog and his featured Fight Pass prelim spot was more to do with the introduction of Lopez. For Yahya, it was an opportunity to put on a show.
“I kind of felt that,” Yahya said on being underestimated. “I felt that I owed the UFC a good performance so I liked being underestimated in that situation. I feel that I perform better that way. It was great to fight on Fight Pass, a great opportunity. I definitely gained some respect from a lot people. Many people liked the fight.”
Entering into this contest, Yahya was coming off a one year layoff. Despite coming very close to rejecting the fight, we saw a rejuvenated version of him, displaying much improved striking.
“I’ve been dealing with a lot injuries,” Yahya said. “I almost rejected the fight when Sean Shelby offered it to me because of all of the pain I was in. Every day during training camp I was doing some kind of physical therapy to recover. During the time off, I knew I could improve a lot so I tried to evolve every single day and learn new things and I’m glad that it worked.”
Continuing to grow fight by fight, Yahya draws inspiration from arguably the best jiu-jitsu practitioner in MMA, Demian Maia and even expressed interest in training with him. Yahya like Maia submits most of his opponents and continues to enforce his submission game despite the stylistic match up. A jiu-jitsu practitioner the majority of his life, he continues to use his world class submission game to finish opponents.
“I started with BJJ when I was 11 years old. I won the worlds as a blue, purple and brown belt and then I earned my black belt and switched to MMA. All the BJJ tournaments were very important to me and my confidence on the ground came from those times. Demian has the best BJJ in MMA. Many years ago, fighters developed the anti jiu-jitsu and Demian is the one who has the best answer for that. He’s still winning without taking risks and somehow he closes the distance without throwing any strikes, so he is pretty amazing.”
With his eyes on the Brasilia card in September, Yahya is determined to get on the card but has no opponent in mind. There are plenty of young rising contenders in the bantamweight division and he would be a stern test for any top contender.
“I want to fight in Brasilia, I believe I deserve it. I’ve been traveling to fight for many years during my career and it’s tough to travel to fight. For this one I got on 3 airplanes and the longest one was 11 hours. On top of that, we have to get adapted to the weather, time difference and food. I felt really good when I fought at home a couple of years ago and it would be a dream come true if that happened again. I don’t mind who the opponent is.”
Even though he doesn’t train at one of Brazil’s renowned gyms, Yahya feels confident that he has the right support system at Constrictor Team to catapult him to success.
“Constrictor team is growing a lot, there’s another UFC fighter who’s been winning, Renato Carneiro. All the other fighters are doing great on other shows that they’re fighting in. We have excellent coaches; Ataide Junior for BJJ, Gabriel de Oliveira for boxing and Thiago Castilho for Muay Thai. It’s been working for us.”
A late starter in the sport, he transitioned from jiu-jitsu to MMA at the age of 18. Having come a long way from his grappling days, the 31 year old Yahya is quietly closing in on the bantamweight ranks and there’s no better time than now where the division is booming.
“I started when I was 18 years old, it was a dream for me,” Yahya said. “The sport was called Vale Tudo back then. I got to do 3 fights in one night and I also had bare knuckle fights. I’m very glad to be where I am today and I hope to achieve many more dreams.”