Many of us were left wondering why this wasn’t the fight the UFC made at UFC 251, as they had Yan face former 10-time WEC & UFC featherweight champion, and former interim featherweight champion, Jose Aldo.
To corrupt things even further, the UFC had then champion Henry Cejudo defend his title against seven-time UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz prior, after winning it against six-time WSOF bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes, which was also a vacant title bout, considering then champion TJ Dillashaw got suspended for two years.
After defeating Moraes, Cejudo defended the title against Cruz, who hadn’t fought in three-and-a-half years, and was coming off a defeat. Many of us believed it should’ve been Cejudo against either Yan or Sterling.
Once Cejudo retired and vacated his belt, Yan fought Aldo for the vacant title, finishing him via TKO in round five.
Again, we all believed the fight to make was Yan versus Sterling. ‘The Funkmaster’ was then scheduled to face Cory Sandhagen, and while it was expected to be a close, competitive fight, Sterling melted right through him, submitting (rear naked choke) him just 88 seconds into round one.
The UFC couldn’t deny Sterling at this point, and they put the fight together. They were expected to meet at UFC 256 on December 12, but was cancelled due to a positive Covid-19 test.
They’ve been rebooked for UFC 259 however, and it couldn’t be more exciting. A number of fights took place while this was the one we should’ve seen all along.
We first got notice of Aljamain Sterling back in the beginning of 2014, where he quickly went 4-0 inside the octagon up until the end of 2015. This included submitting Takeya Mizugaki (arm-triangle choke) and Johnny Eduardo (guillotine choke).
Next came back-to-back defeats to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao, both via split decision. Each of these fights were incredibly close, Sterling could’ve gotten the nod in both of them, but obviously, he didn’t.
Sterling then won unanimous decisions over Augusto Mendes and former four-time UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao, before being KO’d by Marlon Moraes with a vicious knee just 67 seconds into round one.
‘The Funkmaster’ has been perfect since then however, as he’s gone 5-0 over the likes of Brett Johns (UD), Cody Stamann (Suloev stretch), Jimmie Rivera (UD), Pedro Munhoz (UD), Cory Sandhagen (rear naked choke).
We first got notice of Petr Yan in the middle of 2018, where he KO’d Teruto Ishihara in round one of his UFC debut.
This was followed up by two more victories, over Jin Soo Son (UD) and Douglas Silva de Andrade (TKO), before being matched up with his first ranked opponent, former two-time flyweight title challenger, John Dodson (UD).
Next came Jimmie Rivera, who was doing well against him, but couldn’t help but get cracked and wobbled toward the end of each round, thus making the decision go to Yan.
Former six-time WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber was up next, who he KO’d with a head kick in round three after badly hurting him in round two. That brings us up to his bout with Jose Aldo, where he claimed the vacant UFC bantamweight championship in July.
Petr Yan (15-1) vs. Aljamain Sterling (19-3)
We’ve only ever seen the champion lose a single time, to Magomed Magomedov, where he was out-grappled for a decent portion of the bout. He lost the fight via split decision over the coarse of five rounds.
Yan avenged the defeat in his second-to-next outing however, winning the ACB bantamweight championship over Magomedov via unanimous decision, and defending it a single time before coming over to the UFC.
Sterling, like Yan, really only has one defeat as well, though his record says different.
As mentioned above, those two split decision defeats could’ve so easily gone his way. The only man to convincingly beat him, to where we knew he was better than Sterling at the end of the fight, was Moraes.
Sterling is also a former champion, having won the Ring of Combat bantamweight championship, along with being a four-time CFFC bantamweight champion.
Yan has some of the very best striking in the sport of mixed martial arts. He isn’t the most flashy, he won’t usually wow you with something you’ve never seen before, but he’s as much of a technician as you’ll find, a dangerous one at that.
His leg kicks, to his body and head kicks, to his punches of all sorts, Yan is as crafty as they come on the feet. Having just turned 28-years-old, it’s extraordinary he’s already that elite at it.
He’s got his Master of Sport in boxing and a number of national titles in the sport as an amateur to thank for that.
Sterling however has some of the very best MMA grappling in the sport of mixed martial arts.
What we mean by MMA grappling is someone who’s incredible at wrestling, great at getting their opponents down and remaining on top, good with submission attacks, and good at taking the back.
Sterling, Bryan Caraway and Urijah Faber in their primes, Demian Maia, Michael Chiesa, obviously Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev, they’re the top MMA grapplers out there.
It’ll be interesting to see if Sterling can take anything from Yan’s lone defeat. It was a close fight, it’s not like he was dominated. Not to mention, he’s got incredible wrestling himself.
We’ve seen a couple guys try to take Yan down, only to get their faces sprawled into the mat. We’ve also seen him take guys down before, and his scrambling ability is second-to-none, just like the No. 1 contender.
With the champion standing 5’7.5” with a reach of 67”, and the challenger standing 5’7” with a reach of 71”, it’ll be interesting seeing how this fight plays out.
Though Sterling has the reach advantage by four inches, the better puncher of the two is Yan without question. The better kicker is probably Sterling though, he’s so great at using a wide array of them to keep the distance.
Then we have the ground game, which honestly, who knows how that plays out. It’s about time we’re finally able to see these two square off for the UFC bantamweight championship!
Who walks away from UFC 259 as the 135 lb champion? Will it be Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling?