Up until the fourth round of his first title defense, Yan looked set for a long reign of dominance atop the 135-pound mountain. Having earned a shot at gold with a 6-0 UFC record that included wins against Jimmie Rivera and Urijah Faber, “No Mercy” faced legendary former featherweight champion José Aldo for the vacant strap last July. With a brutal fifth-round TKO, the Russian left Abu Dhabi with the title.
At UFC 259 in March this year, Yan faced the first challenge to his throne in the form of Sterling. After three-and-a-half rounds, the 28-year-old appeared comfortably on his way to a successful retention. But after landing an illegal knee, Yan was disqualified and saw the bantamweight belt leave the Apex in the possession of “Funkmaster.”
After his chance for redemption was called off after Sterling withdrew from UFC 267, Yan had to settle for an interim title shot. Against Cory Sandhagen, “No Mercy” looked at his best, and secured a unification fight with a five-round victory on Fight Island.
Despite only getting his hands on interim gold on October 30, many see Yan as the true champion of the bantamweight division, even with that official title remaining at the feet of Sterling. Font, the #4-ranked contender, shares the same sentiment.
In a recent interview with MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck, the 34-year-old said Sterling was having very little success against Yan at UFC 259. Judging by their performances in that fight, and the Russian’s interim crowning since, Font considers Yan to be the champion at 135 pounds.
“It sucks man. You’ve gotta look at Yan and his performance and consider him, obviously, the champion. ‘Cos it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like Sterling was putting together clean combinations and hitting him with anything clean. He was busier but it wasn’t much, it wasn’t gonna do much. It was never gonna stop Yan from coming forward. And then the shots were kind of like, they weren’t set up.
“He was never really in that fight. So it’s tough. And then obviously, he gets hit with the knee, so it sucks man. I guess to answer your question, I guess, technically, I would consider Yan the champion right now.”
Font Looks To Jump Closer To Gold With Win Over Aldo
Rob Font will be looking to move a step closer to challenging either Yan or Sterling when he returns to action this weekend at UFC Vegas 44.
In his second main event of the year, the Massachusetts native will enter the cage with #5-ranked contender Aldo, who has built a two-fight winning streak after an initial unsuccessful drop to bantamweight. Wins against Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz have seen the Brazilian begin another charge to a UFC title, something which Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t believe will be possible.
Font will aim to prove “The Eagle” right in Saturday’s headliner as he puts his four-fight winning streak on the line. After securing victories over Sergio Pettis, Ricky Simon, and Marlon Moraes, Font cemented his top-five position with a decision triumph over former champ Cody Garbrandt at UFC Vegas 27 in May.
Despite admitting he’ll likely have to defeat Aldo and one other top name in order to secure a title shot, Font will no doubt be keeping a close eye on Yan vs. Sterling 2, which is expected to take place in February or March 2022.
Do you agree with Rob Font? Do you see interim titleholder Petr Yan as the true bantamweight champion?