Yan and Sterling collided earlier this year at UFC 259. After extending his UFC record to 7-0 with a relentless TKO victory over José Aldo last July, “No Mercy” reached the 135-pound mountaintop and looked set for a successful reign as champion. That narrative was firmly established in the opening three-and-a-half rounds of his first defense against Sterling.
However, after being on track for a comfortable retention, Yan saw the title ripped from his grasp after he landed an illegal knee on a downed Sterling, who became the first champion in UFC history to be crowned via disqualification. In the following months, the pair developed a bitter rivalry, accentuated by Sterling’s decision to delay a second fight with the Russian by undergoing neck surgery.
After a lengthy period of back-and-forth on social media and in interviews, the pair’s rematch was arranged for UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi. However, after failing to receive medical clearance due to the lingering issues from his operation, “Funk Master” withdrew from his first defense. In his place has stepped #3-ranked contender Cory Sandhagen, who will clash with Yan for the interim belt in this weekend’s co-main event.
Yan Targets Dillashaw Fight If He Wins Gold In Abu Dhabi This Weekend
The situation is far from ideal for Petr Yan, who was hoping to regain the title that he believes he never legitimately lost. The Russian has consistently made his opinion on Sterling’s absence known. Now, with the champ set for further months on the sidelines, Yan doubts the extent to which Sterling’s neck is still injured.
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Yan admitted he was disappointed not to be running it back with his bitter foe. He also doubled down on his confusion over why Sterling chose to have surgery after winning the title, and branded recent videos of “Funk Master” sparring in the aftermath of his UFC 267 withdrawal as “ridiculous.”
“Of course, i wanted to regain my belt in the rematch with Sterling, but as we all know, he ran away like a sneaky fox… Nothing personal, it’s just, you know, his decision to make this surgery right now. I don’t know why he hadn’t done it earlier or maybe later in his career. But now he has the whole division in a mess.
“When people have a neck pain, i don’t see them sparring with someone without any headgear, you know. It’s just ridiculous,” said Yan via a translator.
Discussing what’s next if he’s victorious against “The Sandman” this Saturday, Yan surprisingly suggested he’d rather face #2-ranked bantamweight TJ Dillashaw than Sterling. If he wins the interim gold, most would be expecting the Russian to meet the champion in a unification bout. However, with Dillashaw suggesting Sterling may never compete again, perhaps the door for a clash with the former two-time champ will be open for Yan.
“I don’t know what will be next. Maybe it will be Sterling, maybe it will be Dillashaw. I don’t want to fight with Sterling. He’s chicken. He’s not good, not good guy. I want to fight, maybe, with Dillashaw.”
After serving a two-year suspension following a positive EPO test in 2019, Dillashaw returned to the Octagon at UFC Vegas 32 in July. Without taking a tune-up fight, the Californian faced top contender Sandhagen in the event’s main event. After an incredibly competitive and tight five rounds, the 35-year-old fell on the right side of a close split decision.
Having undergone knee surgery following his comeback, Dillashaw was unable to replace Sterling this month, and is targeting a return to action in early 2022. having previously had his sights set on the winner of Yan vs. Sterling 2, perhaps the former champ will have his eyes on the Russian should he defeat Sandhagen on October 30.
If Petr Yan wins this weekend, who would you rather see him face, TJ Dillashaw or Aljamain Sterling?