Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC strawweight Yan Xiaonan isn’t consumed with regrets, but she admits mistakes were made before her first octagon loss to Carla Esparza this past May.

According to Yan, the problems started just after she received the offer to face the former UFC strawweight champion, and the issues only snowballed from there.

“The biggest takeaway from my last is that I was not 100 percent ready for that fight,” Yan said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “Even though I thought I was ready for that fight, I was not.

“The whole arrangement for the training camp was pretty disorganized. Because I got the offer to fight Carla Esparza in February, but I had already booked a trip back to China. So I decided to go back to China. I had a 21-day quarantine when I arrived, so I could only train in the hotel by myself. Then after the quarantine, I trained in China and then back in the U.S. for about a month. So a lot of back and forth. The whole training camp is just a little bit disorganized.”

She paid for that mistake with a lopsided defeat to Esparza, who earned a second-round TKO finish, halting Yan’s 12-fight unbeaten streak that included six consecutive wins in the UFC.

Heading into that matchup, Yan felt like a win made a title shot inevitable. Now it appears Esparza will get the next shot at reigning strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. As much as it broke her heart to lose that fight, Yan can’t disagree with the ex-champ getting the opportunity.

“I think Carla deserves the title shot,” she said. “:I saw some news on social media that Dana White agreed for Carla to challenge for the belt. So I think she deserves it, and she’s good enough to challenge for the title.”

As for the changes Yan made to prevent another bad outing, she to relocate to Sacramento, where she’s been training full-time since this past September with the coaches and fighters of Team Alpha Male.

“Due to COVID, it’s hard to go back to China with the quarantine and travel restrictions,” Yan explained. “So we’re going to waste a lot of time, almost a month, and we can’t train very well. That’s why I decided to just stay in the U.S. and train with Team Alpha Male.

“The primary reason I made the decision to come to Team Alpha Male was I saw the improvement of Song Yadong, another UFC fighter, and he improved quite a lot since he started training together with Urijah Faber. So I decided I would come here, too, and start training with [Urijah] Faber. That’s the main reason.”

Yan praises Team Alpha Male and former WEC champion Faber for making her better.

“I think their understanding of MMA, which opened my eyes, and especially they are still learning new techniques every day,” she said. “Some of the new techniques I had never seen before. For Urijah, his passion also teaches me, because he comes to the gym very early, and he’s the last one leaving the gym. That’s what I learn from them.”

Yan had no expectations about the kind of matchup the UFC would offer considering her rather one-sided loss. When she got the call to fight at UFC 272 against Marina Rodriguez, who many consider the next fighter in line for a title shot after Esparza, she couldn’t have been happier.

“I’m very happy with this matchup,” Yan said. “I was even a little surprised when I heard that the UFC offered me this fight against Marina Rodriguez, whose ranking is higher than me. So I really like this matchup.”

The fight won’t necessarily erase what happened in Yan’s previous outing, but it will definitely put her back on the right path.

“Her striking is really, really good,” Yan said of Rodriguez. “I did a lot of film study on her fights, even before I knew I was going to fight her. Her combinations and her distance management are extraordinary. She’s a really good opponent for me.

“I think if I can win this fight and both of us show our best, show the UFC an extraordinary, exciting fight. I think then I could get a chance to challenge for the belt.”

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