Many were expecting former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan to reclaim the title at UFC 273. “No Mercy” was even a heavy betting favorite at -490 during fight week while “Funkmaster” was a sizable underdog at +360.
Sterling ended up winning the fight and defending the title via decision, which couldn’t make his team any happier. But for his striking coach Ray Longo, the victory proved a few important things.
“What happened to the boogeyman? He’s not the boogeyman anymore – Aljo’s the boogeyman now,” Longo said in his Monday interview on The MMA Hour. “That’s why I even got fired up. This is the guy? This is the guy that everybody thinks is going to kill you? Take a look at him. He doesn’t look too good to me.”
Longo was particularly irked by Yan’s fight week “warning,” saying “if we see his team, we kill every team.”
“I’m loving it, and there was a lot of tension building up to this fight,” Longo said. “I’m in New York, I’m getting ready to leave, and this guy is saying he’s going to kill his team on site. I’m like, ‘What? You’re threatening me in my own f–ng country?’
“It wasn’t a good look for him. Nothing was going to happen. It would have been the stupidest thing he could have even tried. I think for me, maybe that added to the emotion, because you’re kind of aggravated. It’s insulting, somebody’s threatening to kill you. It’s like, ‘Are you joking?’”
It wasn’t as dominant of a win, but it was a win for Sterling, nonetheless. And for Longo, it was enough to silence detractors.
“People can say whatever they want, it was close,” he said. “The first round, here’s the bottom line: They had that kid getting killed, period. [They said], ‘He’s not coming out of the first round.’ And then when that doesn’t happen, they’ve got to revert to some...we’re down to the first round, with like six punches thrown? Are you frickin’ kidding me?
“The guy was supposed to get mauled and killed. He shut everybody up, man, and I’ll tell you what, it’s only going to get worse for Yan as these fights go on because I think the more comfortable Aljo gets, and the healthier he can stay, he’s just going to get better and better.”
UFC president Dana White, for one, had Yan winning 3-2, saying the “judges blew that one.” And according to him, Sterling likely faces former champion, T.J. Dillashaw, next.