Sterling’s title crowning went down at UFC 259 in March this year. Against then-champ Yan, “Funk Master” became the first fighter in UFC history to win gold via disqualification. In what was Yan’s first title defense, having won the belt with a brutal TKO against José Aldo in 2020, the Russian looked controlled and comfortable up until the fourth round. “No Mercy” delivered an illegal knee to the head of a downed Sterling, resulting in his DQ.
After undergoing neck surgery soon after securing his place on the 135-pound throne, Sterling set his sights on his first defense in the final quarter of the year following a period of recovery. He was set to run it back with Yan at UFC 267, which took place in Abu Dhabi this past weekend. However, after failing to receive medical clearance, the champion withdrew.
In Sterling’s place stepped up Cory Sandhagen. With the creation of an interim title, Yan was still fighting for gold. In a back-and-forth five-round affair, it was the former champion who emerged victorious on the scorecards and had gold wrapped around his waist again.
Sterling Targets January Or February Return
Yan’s victory on Saturday has set up a blockbuster unification clash against his bitter foe Sterling. Despite the Russian suggesting he’d rather face the #2-ranked T.J. Dillashaw next, UFC President Dana White confirmed that Yan’s rematch with “Funk Master” will be his next challenge in the Octagon.
The discussion now surrounds when Sterling will be ready to return to action. During an appearance on The MMA Hour following UFC 267, the champ revealed he contacted matchmaker Sean Shelby following Yan’s interim championship crowning, suggesting two possible options for his second clash with the 28-year-old.
“Right after that fight was done, I texted [Sean Shelby] and said, ‘January or February?’ You let me know. This is when I’ll be ready to go. I’m feeling a lot better these days, especially with all the work I’ve been putting in, really getting to focus on the neurological side of everything to get my muscle atrophy to stop and all that. So I’m good, man. I’m excited. I’m excited for the future.”
If the fight doesn’t come to fruition in January or February, it would be over a year before Sterling puts his gold on the line for the very first time. The 32-year-old made it clear he wants to enter the cage before then.
“I don’t want to wait till March. If I could fight this guy tomorrow, I would. But obviously, it doesn’t work like that.”
Who do you think will become the next undisputed UFC Bantamweight Champion, Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling?