From Siberia to UFC royalty.
Yan, who was born in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, dropped Aldo with a combination early in the final round and then poured it on once on the ground.
Yan landed dozens of unanswered blows on the ground, leaving Aldo facedown in his own blood before referee Leon Roberts stepped in to call it. The finish was the latest in UFC bantamweight title history.
"In the beginning, I wanted to put pressure on him, make him tired and then start attacking after the third round. That's exactly what happened," Yan said through an interpreter. "In the first and second round, he had hard punches and low kicks. I waited and pressured him. After the second round, I started to work. It was a good knockout. I liked it."
The bout took place at the recently built Flash Forum on Yas Island, which the UFC has dubbed "Fight Island" for four events this month. The venue is part of a "safe zone" amid the coronavirus pandemic, where only those who have been tested multiple times for COVID-19 are allowed, including members of the UFC traveling party and local workers.
Yan is only the second Russian fighter to win UFC gold, joining current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Coming in, ESPN had Yan ranked No. 3 and Aldo ranked No. 5 among MMA bantamweight fighters.
Yan landed 194 significant strikes, the most in a single fight in the history of the UFC bantamweight division, per ESPN Stats & Information data. But it wasn't an easy path to winning the title.
In the first round, Yan hurt Aldo with a body kick, and then, after Aldo failed on a takedown attempt, Yan nearly finished with a hard shot to Aldo's body on the ground. Aldo survived, though, and came back with an excellent second round, using hard leg kicks and body punches.
The third round was more of the same for a bit. It seemed Aldo had made the correct adjustments and did solid damage against Yan with hard combinations. But in the final 90 seconds of the round, Yan took over. Switching back and forth from orthodox to southpaw, Yan landed a spinning back elbow, long combinations, another elbow and hard body kicks.
By the time the fourth started, Yan was in total control. Aldo's nose was bleeding, and he was trying to survive, evading and backpedaling from a pressing Yan. In the fifth, Yan got Aldo up against the cage and dropped him with hard punches, including two big uppercuts. It was over shortly thereafter.
UFC president Dana White, in his postfight news conference, called the referee's stoppage "a horrible stoppage."
"It should have been stopped sooner," White said.
Yan landed 62 significant strikes in the fifth round -- more than Aldo had absorbed in his nine previous UFC fights.
Aldo is arguably the greatest featherweight fighter in MMA history. He held the UFC/WEC featherweight belt from 2009 to 2015 with a division-record seven title fights.
"It is a crazy situation in the world to prepare for this fight," Yan said. "The world was closed, but we worked hard to prepare. Aldo is a legend. I have only respect for him."
White said he thought Yan "looked good," and that Aldo "looked great for people criticizing him and saying he didn't deserve another title shot."
Yan (15-1) has won 10 straight, including his first seven in the UFC. "No Mercy" is now tied for the longest winning streak in UFC bantamweight history. Yan, 27, was coming off a third-round knockout of UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber at UFC 245 in December.
Yan said he believes Aljamain Sterling should be next for a title shot.
Aldo (28-7) has lost three straight and has not won since February 2019. The Brazil native is now 0-2 since moving down to bantamweight. Aldo, 33, owns career wins over former champions Frankie Edgar and Faber, as well as "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung.