Cory Sandhagen has warned Petr Yan against underestimating Aljamain Sterling in their upcoming championship rematch next month.
Yan and Sterling share the Octagon again, this time in the co-main event of UFC 273 on April 9 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Following the controversial ending of their first fight at UFC 259, the promotion scheduled an immediate rematch. However, it took much longer to get to after Sterling could not receive medical clearance over lingering issues after neck surgery. In his absence, an interim championship fight between Yan and Sandhagen was created, which served as the co-main event of UFC 267 this past October.
Yan went on to defeat Sandhagen via unanimous decision, and a unification against Sterling was all but sure to be next for the newly minted interim champion. Once it was announced as official, the online back-and-forth between the champions only intensified, with both men promising to leave any controversy behind to have a more definitive ending. Given how the first fight went, Yan has exuded confidence since then and said he would ‘beat the living s—t out of’ Sterling, but Sandhagen urged ‘No Mercy’ to take the ‘Funk Master’ seriously.
“I think Sterling is always dangerous because he is such a good grappler, and I think Yan is super dangerous because he punches hard as hell,” Sandhagen told Farah Hannoun of MMA Junkie. “I think Yan is likely the more well-rounded guy, but I think if Yan goes in thinking that he’s just gonna crush him because of the way that the last fight went, I think that would be a huge mistake on Yan’s part, but I don’t think he’s that poor of a competitor.
“I think that he’s gonna go in and do really well again and not let the last fight impact him, and I think Yan is just kind of a better all-around competitor also than Sterling is,” continued Sandhagen. “But that being said, Sterling’s a very good fighter. He’s a very good competitor and he’s a good grappler, so there’s always that.”
Before the illegal knee that led to the disqualification, Sandhagen saw some shining moments from Yan and Sterling. But the ‘Sandman’ has offered a word of advice for Sterling, who he believes should slightly adjust his strategy.
“If I was him, I would definitely change the pace that I was fighting,” said Sandhagen. “It was a little bit chaotic, but it also threw Yan off a lot, too. That was a positive that came from that, but you saw in the later rounds that was definitely not going to be something that would have benefitted him in Rounds 4 and 5. I forget what round he got knocked out in, but if I was Sterling, I would definitely change the pace of the fight.
“I would not try to make it as frantic as he kind of made it in the first one and then if I was Yan, I would probably do the exact same thing that he did in the first one because if Aljamain slows down the pace, that just means that Yan gets to fight at a less chaotic pace which I think Yan does really well in. So, yeah. They both definitely have some corrections to make.”
Sandhagen has not fought since losing to Yan, but the No. 4 ranked bantamweight has begun preparing for a return to competition. He has targeted former champions Dominick Cruz and José Aldo for a potential fight in the summer.
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