Former two-time UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw doesn’t think Aljamain Sterling has any intention of defending the 135 lbs title following ‘Funk Master’s’ withdrawal from UFC 267.
Sterling won the belt via disqualification after Petr Yan hit him with an illegal knee in the fourth round of their bantamweight title bout at UFC 259 earlier this year.
The two fighters were expected to collide in a bantamweight title rematch at UFC 267 but Sterling was forced to withdraw from the bout due to injury.
Dillashaw suspects Sterling has sustained irreparable nerve damage to his neck and is just holding onto the belt for as long as he can.
“I don’t even know if Aljo’s ever going to come back to be honest,” Dillashaw told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani in a recent interview (h/t Jordan Ellis of Low Kick MMA). “From what he had done, it’s kind of crazy. If I was him, I would have waited to get that done. My coaches, my strength and conditioning coach as well as my wrestling coach, sells the medical equipment that did his neck, don’t believe he’s ever going to come back.”
“I think he’s just holding onto this belt as long as he can. I’ve had that feeling already so when he pulled out of the fight, I wasn’t surprised,” he added. “I bet he’s dealing with nerve damage. I bet he’s dealing with a lot of stuff. You go get your neck cranked on with what he’s had done, it’s definitely not good. We’ll see. I could be completely wrong but I don’t know if he’s ever going to come back.”
With Sterling out of the fight, No. 3-ranked bantamweight Cory Sandhagen has stepped in as his replacement and will take on Yan for the interim strap in the UFC 267 co-main event.
The event, which is not a PPV, but broadcast on ABC and ESPN+, features a headlining light heavyweight title bout between Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira, and is scheduled to take place on Oct. 30 at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.