It’s arguably the most competitive bantamweight matchup you could put together in the division today, and this weekend’s title fight between the incumbent Petr Yan and the challenger, Aljamain Sterling has some real animosity fueling it.
Initially set to match at UFC 256 in December, Yan was forced to withdraw from the matchup, citing personal reasons, with Sterling also removed from the card as a result. Rescheduled for this weekend’s stacked UFC 259 event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas — in the months since, the rivalry has only continued to develop.
Taking his camp to South Florida at American Top Team from Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reigning champion Yan recently spoke with BJ PENN.com reporter, Cole Shelton, claiming that while the consensus would believe Sterling has a distinct grappling advantage, that aspect of the challenger’s game doesn’t “bother” him.
“I’m ready for every aspect of MMA,” Yan said. “I can hurt him (Aljamain Sterling) standing and on the ground too. I’m not gonna shy away from the challenge. I’m training with many high-level grapplers, his grappling doesn’t bother me.“
In his sole professional loss, Yan dropped a split decision defeat to recent Bellator MMA acquisition, Magomed Magomedov — in which he was taken down on multiple occasions in a vacant ACB bantamweight championship matchup. Sterling himself has recently claimed that whilst Yan may be able to defend some takedowns — all he needs is one successful shot to find his route to victory this weekend.
Opening another title tripleheader back in July of last year at UFC 251 — Yan claimed the vacant bantamweight crown with an eventual fifth-round knockout victory over former featherweight kingpin, Jose Aldo — sealing Octagon gold in just his seventh promotional appearance.
Yan had previously claimed he’s going to finish Sterling in relatively quick fashion come this weekend’s bantamweight title clash — and now predicts his finish retention will be a “very violent one“.
“My goal is always to finish the fight early and do the damage,” Yan said. “I see me getting a very violent finish. It will play out very violently for him,“
Earning his well-overdue title challenge, longtime contender, Sterling met with the fellow streaking, Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 in June — lodging a career-best, highlight-reel performance. Taking the recent big winner’s back early in the opening-minute, Uniondale native, Sterling locked up a patient rear-naked choke — forcing the tap from Sandhagen.