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What’s standing between Petr Yan and UFC stardom

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The UFC doesn’t often pack as many as three championship fights into a single night. But when it does, it prefers to prominently feature Petr Yan.

The UFC bantamweight champion, who will defend his title for the first time Saturday against Aljamain Sterling at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, is part of a trio of defending champs in action on the UFC 259 pay-per-view event. Such was also the case when he won the vacant crown with a dominant fifth-round TKO of Jose Aldo last July. In his last non-title fight in December 2019, his third-round KO of Urijah Faber came on the PPV main card highlighted by a championship triple-header.

One one hand, placing Yan (15-1, eight finishes) on prominent events is a tool to increase exposure for the proud native of the vast Siberia region in Russia. But that also means he has yet to be promoted as the star attraction. Not that the 28-year-old is in such a rush a little more than seven years into his MMA career.

“I just have to keep winning,” Yan, who speaks Russian, told The Post over the phone Tuesday through manager Sayat Abdrakhmanov. “I have everything to make my fights entertaining, just keep winning, and this will come.”

Yan emphasizes hard work and results over pre-fight hype, but he’s had his fair share of back-and-forth on social media with Sterling (19-3, 10 finishes), a 31-year-old Long Island native who trains at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City. A former two-time NCAA Division III All-American at SUNY Cortland with eight wins by submission, the challenger has said he believes he needs just “one takedown” to get the job done and usurp Yan, a former boxer who at the beginning of his MMA journey learned wrestling from watching YouTube.

 Petr Yan in his win. over Jose Aldo
Petr Yan in his win over Jose Aldo
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The champion, who has spun the boast of Sterling lacking a plan “B,” said he’s unconcerned with the chatter and simply intends to make Saturday the first of what he plans to be a long and active reign atop the 135-pound weight class that is considered to be perhaps the deepest in the sport.

“It’s an honor to be champion of such a deep division like that,” Yan said.

Although Yan typically trains at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, he prepared for this fight with Coconut Creek, Fla.-based American Top Team, one of the most prominent gyms in the sport with several world champions under its roof. He has enjoyed the experience but isn’t ready to commit to a full-time switch.

“We’ll see if I’m going to make it my permanent base,” Yan said. “I will, for sure, come back to Thailand. I love it there. Great weather, great camp. And in Florida, there are also a lot of benefits of training partners. So we’ll see. Definitely, I’ll be coming back. For sure.”

Training so far from his wife and two sons is a challenge for the champ, who has been away from them for two months and FaceTimes with them daily. Once the job is done against Sterling, Yan will take advantage of the time between fights by soaking in quality family time, including favorite activities like trips to the movies and taking in nature.

“After the fight, when I’m with my family is the time when I relax and enjoy myself, when I let my guard down,” Yan said.

Yan has pointed to his “Siberian tenacity” as a driving force in his success. He was born in Yekaterinburg, one of Russia’s largest cities with well over one million citizens. As one might expect from the region’s reputation, the winters are long, with freezing temperatures typical from October through April.

Some outside of Russia may have preconceived notions of what the region may be like. And while he recommends visiting the place that shaped him to soak in all its “beautiful places” and prefers not to paint it as a purely “harsh” locale, he concedes it helped mold him into who he is: a champion.

“Siberia being a place with harsh conditions, you have to be tough to survive there,” Yan said. “You have to work hard to become someone.”

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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