Chinese fighter Yan Xiaonan has had precious little time to celebrate the biggest win of her UFC career this past Sunday, having flown out of New Zealand the next day and then having immediately locked herself away in self-quarantine for a 14-day stretch on her return to Beijing.
But the rising strawweight star is finding her moments.
"I am celebrating by eating and sleeping - and playing with my dog," says Yan, speaking to the Post from inside her Beijing apartment. "The only sport I can do is playing with my dog. My parents are cooking lots of food for me and we've celebrated that way but these are times when everyone is making sacrifices."
With China - and the world - in the grip of the coronavirus and its spread, Beijing has required all travellers to spend two weeks in self-quarantine on return to the country.
It had been touch-and-go that Yan would even be allowed into New Zealand for UFC Fight Night: Felder vs Hooker, following that country's restrictions on incoming travellers following the outbreak of what's now known as Covid-19, which has been responsible for 2,858 deaths globally.
The 30-year-old "Fury" and her entourage had split their fight camp in Beijing for Thailand four weeks ago to ensure they were doing as much as humanly possible to escape the virus. When the OK came through from New Zealand authorities there was still a three-hour wait in immigration for health and paper checks before they bordered their 12-hour flight down south.
The distractions didn't take Yan's mind off the job at hand, though, and she thoroughly dismantled Poland's former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz for a unanimous decision that was about as complete as you can get. Ninety-three strikes thrown to 38 pretty much tells the tale.
Yan (12-1, one no contest) landed an early left that left Kowalkiewicz (12-6) in disarray, the damage to the 34-year-old's right eye socket pretty much putting her out of business for the rest of the fight.
Photos Kowalkiewicz posted online of the mess the fight made of her face have gone viral and Yan was quick to deflect attention away from the result and on to her opponent's courage.
"I've seen the photos of the fight and after the fight. I think she's very tough," says Yan. "I hurt her in that first round but she stayed for three. I respect her and wish her health soon. She's tough. But hurting an opponent is not my purpose. I just want to win. I know injuries grab attention but I just want to win and I hope she recovers soon."
"Our plan was to throw heavy strikes in the first and second rounds and look for a TKO. But I also got her to the ground. It wasn't part of the plan but I was happy to do that. I have worked so hard on my BJJ and haven't been able to show that before."
The resounding victory took Yan's run in the UFC to 5-0 and saw her enter the UFC's updated strawweight rankings at 11, in a division currently ruled by compatriot Zhang "Magnum" Weili (20-1), who's up against Poland's former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-3) at UFC 248 in Las Vegas next week.
"Next step is top 10, then top five," says Yan. "I will keep working hard and I will keep going. I feel now I am ready for a fight against the number five or six. I still feel I have more to show everyone."
The Auckland result also consigned Yan's past 12 months to history, finally. The China Top Team prospect had battled back from the disappointment of missing out on a fight in Shenzhen last August when no suitable opponent could be found. Then an ankle injury robbed Yan of plans to feature on the October UFC card in Singapore.
"The injury cleared and I really started to think that nothing could stop me," says Yan. "Me and my time had done so much work, just to get the visa approved for Auckland, then to wait to get on to the flight. Once we got on we said nothing can stop us now.
Yan had been itching to display the developments to her stand-up game that came after a one-month stretch she'd spent before that October inside the Las Vegas' Mayweather Boxing Club, owned by multiple world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jnr.
They were certainly out there for all to see at the Spark Arena on Sunday.
"A friend suggested I go and I took one class and realised just how good they were there," says Yan. "I didn't meet Floyd Mayweather Jnr but I worked with his coaches on my boxing, on my punching. After one month I was striker harder and faster than ever before and now. I think I showed that in Auckland and I think there is more improvement to come."
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