Aljamain Sterling was impressed by Petr Yan and his ‘Fight of the Night’ awarded performance against Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267 on Saturday.
The UFC bantamweight champion was supposed to be standing across from Yan in a much anticipated rematch of their UFC 259 bout at the event, but was unable to obtain medical clearance to do so because of lingering issues stemming from recent neck surgery. Sandhagen filled in for Sterling on just five weeks’ notice and fared well throughout the fight. However, it was only a matter of time before Yan made some necessary mid-fight adjustments that stifled Sandhagen and led him to a unanimous decision win. Yan left the Octagon with the newly acquired interim bantamweight championship and another opportunity to meet Sterling.
Sterling reacted to the fight between Yan and Sandhagen on his YouTube channel and praised both men for each of their strategies. The ‘Funk Master’ said Sandhagen did what he could on short-notice and delivered a classic for the bantamweight division, but it just wasn’t enough to best such a technical fighter like Yan.
“He did a great job of walking him down,” said Sterling. “That defense is very, very tight, very technical. He does a good job of looking through the eyebrows — just touching, slight parries, so every time you throw a jab, he just catches it. Catches it nice and clean where almost nothing gets by. When Cory started to do a good job of trying to step in with elbows, I was like, ‘This is a little bit too late, but it’s a good idea.’ It’s a good thing for other people to see, even myself.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that was actually pretty crafty of a switch-up’, but it’s kind of late in the fight to try and go that route at this point where you don’t have much pop on your punches or much juice left in the gas tank after a hard, 20-minute fight and you still have the last five minutes left to go,” continued Sterling. “Sandhagen cuts him off, he attacks the body with those clean body kicks. Cory tried to poker face it a little bit, play a little game of, ‘Oh, that was nothing’ [and] kind of showing the abs like, ‘Yeah, I could eat that. I could take that’. But, eventually those wear you down.”
Sterling may have liked what he saw from Yan, but felt even more confident in his chances at beating his rival when they share the Octagon again. He texted UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby immediately after the fight to propose a potential date for the rematch, which he wants to happen sometime in early 2022. Their first meeting ended after Yan delivered an illegal knee to the head of a downed Sterling, who became the first fighter in UFC history to win a championship by disqualification.
Sterling hoped to get the details ironed out soon so that he could return and put on a show for fans as well as silence any doubters.
“Yan fought a beautiful fight. I got the surgery. I still need a little bit more time. I’m aiming for January, February. I did text Sean Shelby, who is the matchmaker right after the fight, and I said, ‘January, February?’ He said he’ll let me know more on Tuesday and I said, ‘Okay, cool’. I’ll be at MSG — obviously UFC 268 is this weekend. I’m going to be there. Hopefully we get to talk it out and put something solid together and really get on the same page so we can all get ready to unify this belt and give the fans the fight that they deserve. The two best guys in the weight class, really going at it at their best. Not one guy coming in a shell of himself at 50, 60 percent, gassing out after five minutes of combat. That’s not good, you know? I want to give you guys the show you deserve. Yan and Sandhagen delivered. That’s what I want to do for you guys.”
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