At UFC 273 this weekend, two title fights will go down at the top of the card. While Alexander Volkanovski‘s third featherweight defense headlines, a unification bout filled with animosity is set to co-feature.
Since Sterling won the 135-pound gold via disqualification last March, the back-and-forth between him and archrival Yan has been ongoing. Now, as they finally approach their highly-anticipated rematch, the bad blood is at an all-time high.
But while much of it has centered around altered posters, social media jokes, and the usual interview remarks, Yan believes “Funk Master” has chosen a more serious route in recent times.
Yan Slams Sterling For ‘Politicizing’ Rivalry
Towards the end of February, Russia, Yan’s home country, invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine. In the weeks since, over four million Ukrainians have fled, with heavy civilian casualties reported and pictured.
As well as supporting fighters like Wladimir Klitschko, Yaroslav Amosov, and Oleksandr Usyk for returning home to fight, a number of notable names in the combat sports community have sent their best wishes to the war-torn nation, including Sterling.
Last month, the bantamweight champ uploaded an image on Instagram showing himself and his teammates holding up the yellow and blue flag of Ukraine at the Longo-Weidman MMA gym.
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Yan seemed to suggest Sterling’s post had motives beyond support for the Eastern European country.
“Looking at his statements before, trying to make it political, using the flags, smiling, standing with the Ukrainian flag. He tried to make it political,” claimed Yan. “Yeah, I thought he didn’t want me to be over here in the United States. Now that I’m here, he knows that it’s over for him.”
Despite Yan’s claims, Sterling’s decision to show his support certainly wasn’t an anomaly in the MMA community, with a number of fighters displaying similar messages.
In addition, the presence of Georgia’s Merab Dvalishvili in Sterling’s close circle means it’s unsurprising to see the gym form a united front given Georgia’s history with Russia and Dvalishvili’s vocal nature since the Ukrainian invasion.
What’s your take on Aljamain Sterling’s post? Was he attempting to make his feud with Petr Yan political?