Newly crowned UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan will look to successfully defend his title for the first time when he returns to action at UFC 259.

Yan (15-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC) will put his title on the line when he takes on Aljamain Sterling (19-3 MMA, 121-3 UFC) on the main card of UFC 259, which takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.

Ahead of their highly-anticipated bantamweight title clash, we take a look at six fights that have helped define Yan’s MMA career to date.

Magomed Magomedov at ‘ACB 32: The Battle of the Lions’ | March 26, 2016

After winning the bantamweight grand prix in Russian promotion ACB, Yan was handed a shot at the vacant bantamweight title, against the more experienced 11-0 contender Magomed Magomedov. But, despite conceding the experience advantage to his opponent, Yan showed his all-action fighting style to the fullest in an instant classic in Moscow.

While Magomedov looked to relentlessly get the fight to the mat, where his grappling skills could take over, Yan showed outstanding footwork and scrambling ability as he turned the fight into a wild back-and-forth scrap that left both men bloodied over five thrilling rounds.

It looked like Yan was all set to claim victory when, after what looked to be an innocuous clash of heads, the referee halted the contest with just seconds remaining and penalized Yan with a yellow card for a headbutt.

That sanction proved decisive, as Yan lost out via a controversial split decision, and Magomedov claimed the vacant 135-pound strap. There were immediate calls for a rematch, but Yan would have to wait for a year, and defeat British contender Ed Arthur, before getting his wish.

Magomed Magomedov at ‘ACB 57: Payback’ | April 15, 2017

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At the appropriately-monikered “ACB 57: Payback,” Yan and Magomedov met for a second time, as the still-unbeaten Magomedov put his title on the line in one of the most eagerly-anticipated rematches of the year in Europe.

Feeling wronged by the events of the first meeting, Yan fought like a man possessed in the rematch, and he produced a brilliant display to outpoint the champion and send Magomedov to the first loss of his career, wiping out the memory of their controversial first meeting and capturing the championship belt he felt he deserved 12 months earlier.

Yan went on to defend the ACB title with a third-round finish of the previously-undefeated Brazilian Matheus Mattos before signing for the UFC.

Teruto Ishihara at UFC Fight Night 132 | June 23, 2018

After his two thrilling exploits in Russia with ACB, there was a real sense of anticipation when Yan made his octagon debut in Kallang, Singapore.

Matched up against Japan’s Teruto Ishihara, Yan took control from the very start, and he quickly found a home for his shots. He was briefly taken down but swiftly bounced back up and made Ishihara pay with a big right hand that decked the Japanese fighter.

A spinning forearm then further rocked Ishihara, as Yan moved in to finish the fight in impressive fashion and make a big statement on his UFC debut.

“I had some jitters before the fight because it was my UFC debut,” Yan said after his win. “My team helped me, however, and once I stepped in the octagon, it was good.”

It’s been pretty good for Yan ever since.

Watch Petr Yan vs. Teruto Ishihara on UFC Fight Pass

Jimmie Rivera at UFC 238 | June 8, 2019

Following his victory over Ishihara, Yan reeled off three more victories over Jin Soo Son, Douglas Silva de Andrade and John Dodson to earn himself a shot against a legitimate contender, Jimmie Rivera, at UFC 238.

Many believed the uber-tough Rivera would pose an acid test of Yan’s title credentials but, despite facing arguably the most durable opponent of his career, the Russian passed with flying colors.

Yan came close to scoring a stoppage victory at the end of both Round 1 and Round 2, as he hurt Rivera at the end of each of the first two frames. But the teak-tough New Yorker managed to stay in the contest as he pushed “No Mercy” all the way to the scorecards.

Yan did more than enough to get the nod on all three cards, though, as he proved his worth as a dangerous new threat to the division’s best at 135 pounds.

Watch Petr Yan vs. Jimmie Rivera on UFC Fight Pass

Urijah Faber at UFC 245 | Dec. 14, 2019

Yan had called for a title shot after his win over Rivera, but instead of a matchup with then-champion Henry Cejudo, “No Mercy” was handed a bout against an MMA legend.

Former WEC champion Urijah Faber had never captured championship gold in the UFC but remained a serious threat at the top of the promotion’s 135-pound division. But, despite Faber’s massive experience advantage, Yan stepped up and produced the best performance of his UFC career to demolish “The California Kid” and put himself in pole position for a shot at the title.

After quickly finding his rhythm in the opening round, Yan loaded up and let fly in Round 2 and dropped Faber with a slick two-punch combination. Then, after Faber rallied back to his feet, Yan decked him again, this time with an elbow.

Yan was in his element and appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he systematically dismantled Faber through the second round. And when the pair came out of their respective corners for the third, Yan went for the finish, and got it in spectacular fashion, thanks to a thumping head kick after shrugging off Faber’s clinch.

Yan bowed to the crowd with a smile on his face that signified a job well done, as he proved beyond any doubt that he was ready for a shot at UFC gold.

Watch Petr Yan vs. Urijah Faber on UFC Fight Pass

Jose Aldo at UFC 251 | July 11, 2020

Yan’s performances had finally earned him a shot at a title, and the Russian faced off against former featherweight king Jose Aldo for the vacant belt at UFC 251.

The matchup was largely a technical striking contest, with Aldo’s sharp counters combating Yan’s forward pressure and aggression. However, aas the bout moved into the championship rounds, Yan’s relentless approach eventually proved too much for the Brazilian legend.

After spending much of Round 4 walking Aldo down, and Yan caught up with his man late in the frame as he connected with a series of heavy shots that forced Aldo to cover up. A takedown followed, as Yan looked to finish the fight with ground and pound, but the buzzer saved Aldo.

It was only a temporary reprieve, however, as Yan dropped Aldo in the opening seconds of the final round. Yan followed his man to the mat and this time, with no buzzer to save the Brazilian, the Russian challenger unloaded a barrage of ground strikes that eventually forced the stoppage.

That win over a bonafide UFC legend saw Yan crowned the new UFC bantamweight champion, and he’ll look to cement his status when he faces Sterling at UFC 259 on Mar. 6.

Watch Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo on UFC Fight Pass