Aljamain Sterling is currently out of competition after undergoing neck surgery. The bantamweight champion was scheduled to make his first title defense later this month at UFC 267 against Petr Yan. However, due to the lingering issues in his neck, Sterling was forced out of that title fight. The UFC is moving ahead and making an interim title bout between Yan and Cory Sandhagen for the same card. Of course, having to sit out is bothersome to Sterling, but despite any trolling he might receive from fans or Yan, he knows he is making the right decision.
“I think that’s a pretty good, logical reason not to want to be paralyzed in the octagon,” Sterling explained on The MMA Hour (via MMAFighting). “I’m not looking to be the first person to win a belt by DQ and the first person in the octagon to be paralyzed in the cage. I’m sorry if I think my health is more important, and the longevity of me living in my body, my capsule, is more important than proving some stupid beef who’s the better fighter when I’m not even 100 percent yet.”
Sterling is feeling some pressure to perform in his first fight as the bantamweight champion. The nature in which Sterling won the title was a strange one. In his last fight against Yan, Yan landed an illegal knee to the head of a downed Sterling, thus crowning Sterling the champion. Hearing the criticisms of his performance since that fight in March, he wants to be able to be his best self in the Octagon, and that is not the case right now.
“Obviously, getting punched in the face that many times in sparring, it can be a little deflating,” Sterling said. “Mentally, it f–ks you up, especially if you’ve got a fight on the horizon. You’re wondering if you’re doing yourself a disservice by one, showing up and trying to perform for the fans, and not giving them another good show. For me to not give them two bad shows would just be on me at that point. I don’t want to do that. I want to make sure fans get their money’s worth, and they get the actual performance they deserve to see, to see who’s really the best, not a shell of the guy that we paid to see.”
Sterling’s return date is unknown at this time. The interim title bout between Yan and Sandhagen goes down at UFC 267 on October 30. The winner will most likely have a date with Sterling later this year or early 2022.