According to Aljamain Sterling, the path to legitimacy for UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan goes through him at UFC 259 this Saturday night.
Yan is set to meet Sterling in what is his first title defense since acquiring the belt with a fifth-round technical knockout over former champion José Aldo at UFC 251 last July. The win over Aldo was impressive, but questions quickly arose about how much it actually did for Yan considering his opponent had only been 0-1 in the division since making his debut a few months earlier.
To answer those lingering questions, Yan will have to beat someone with a more well-established resume much like the one Sterling possesses. Sterling recently spoke with Damon Martin of MMA Fighting about this and explained why Yan getting a win over him means more than those of his previous wins.
“I do think he has to legitimize himself and he has to beat me,” said Sterling. “I can’t see anybody else who could do that for him. I’ve beaten just about everybody in this weight class or fought everybody in this weight class just to get to this position. I’ve had 13 UFC fights now, this is going to be my 14th fight, [and] I’m finally getting the title shot. He’s had seven. He’s had seven fights and the guys he fought, in terms of the caliber of opponent, I’ve been in that top five gauntlet for quite a bit now.
“He’s only fought Jimmie Rivera, Jose Aldo — you could say Jose Aldo is a tough dude — but fighting a guy who has a loss in the division right for the title doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Cory Sandhagen and myself were ranked higher than him and I would argue that we had better resumes. [Cory] beat [Raphael] Assuncao, I had just beaten Pedro Munhoz, who knocked out the former champion.”
While he does not want to completely discredit Yan for his work, Sterling is eager to see if he can perform in the same way against fellow fighters in their prime.
“I think he knows he’s a bad man. I know he’s a bad dude, but at the end of the day, he’s beaten up a lot of old men. He has to beat a young lion still. I think for him, he wants to prove this more than anything. I think that’s his driving factor. To prove that he really is the champion.”
Sterling and Yan have both opened up about their respective paths to victory and it should come as no surprise to hear how different they are. Yan is aiming for a “violent finish” and Sterling is prepared to wrestle him for as long as possible, but The “Funk Master” is aware that plans can change.
Still, he remains confident in his chances of getting the job done wherever the fight goes and walking out of the Octagon with the championship around his waist.
“At the end of the day, anything can happen when you’re in there,” said Sterling. “I can make one false step and that could be that fight. He could make one false step and get taken down and that could be the fight as well. All that does play a difference, but at the end of the day you have 25 minutes and it’s whoever is sharper and more focused when they’re in there.
“He’s a tough opponent. I know he knows I’m a huge threat and I can finish the fight relatively easy. If I get him down, that could be a really quick night. I can outpoint him. I see his way of winning as just needing a finish. And it has to be a him catching me type of thing. I think I’m pretty elusive, man.”