UFC 250 was all about statements for the bantamweight division. Sean O’Malley showed exactly why many think he’s the future, while Cody Garbrandt made it clear that he’s not even close to being part of the past. But right now, in the moment, Aljamain Sterling looks like the man who could be king. At least, he could be if he could just get that title shot.
On July 12th at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, the UFC will host a PPV headlined by three championship fights. In the main event, Kamaru Usman will defend his welterweight belt against Gilbert Burns, while Alexander Volkanovski rematches Max Holloway for the featherweight title in the co-main. But, before either of those bouts take place, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will meet in the cage to battle for the vacant bantamweight title.
Aldo had been set to take on champion Henry Cejudo for the belt back in May, before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a wave of travel restrictions—making his departure from Brazil impossible. Dominick Cruz took the fight instead, and Cejudo retired shortly after TKOing the ‘Dominator’ in the second round. Yan vs. Aldo was a strange fight for the UFC to jump on in the wake of Cejudo’s sudden departure, with contenders like Sterling and Sandhagen waiting in the wings. However, after quickly choking Sandhagen out on June 6th, the ‘Funkmaster’ seems content to wait in the wings for his shot at UFC gold.
“Petr Yan may fight Jose Aldo and he may win the belt or Jose Aldo may win the belt but people are going to always look and see ‘you’ve got to beat this guy first’ and it gives me comfort knowing that people are behind me and realizing that my skills are dangerous and I’m a real threat to this division,” Sterling told MMA Fighting, after admitting that while he’d like to be competing for the title right now he was taking an optimistic approach to the situation. “In order to be considered the best, you have to take me out.
“I feel like I’ve kind of got that Tony Ferguson effect right now. I’m that guy hanging in the wings right now. I think people are really starting to pay attention and take notice of my skills and capabilities. You put me in there with anybody at 35 or 45, I get on your back, I take you down, it’s going to be a long night and it’s a dangerous situation to be in.”
Sterling even revealed that Sandhagen gave him “a lot of respect,” after their bout, and told him to “go out there and get the belt.” At the moment, in Sterling’s mind, he’s the best bantamweight in the world, “until someone goes out there and proves it otherwise.”