After the controversy at UFC 259, Aljamain Sterling (20-3-0, 12-3-0 UFC) walked away from the Octagon the new UFC bantamweight champion of the world after dethroning Petr Yan (15-2-0, 7-1-0 UFC). It was anticlimactic, to say the least, and so Sean Shelby, Mick Maynard, and Dana White had no choice but to book the rematch between the worlds’ best 135-pounders.
It became official from the former champion Peter Yan himself, and two people with knowledge of the booking confirmed it to Nolan King over at MMA Junkie. Yan initially said that champion Sterling was a “coward” and rejected the rematch multiple times, but it eventually made its way through the top brass at the UFC and became official around 12:30 PM Eastern Time.
Yan vs. Sterling 1: Anarchy at the Apex
Yan and Sterling’s clash UFC 259 was shaping up to be one of the most exciting bantamweight fights of the year, but the fight itself was fairly one-sided in favor of then-champion Yan. The Russian looked to have Sterling’s number and had even landed a knockdown.
In the fourth round, Yan threw a brutal knee to Sterling’s head while he was a downed opponent, knocking the Jamaican to the canvas. Interestingly, Yan’s corner advised against throwing the strike several times, but Yan disregarded it, much to their chagrin.
The broadcast and fans worldwide immediately knew it was illegal, and this gave Sterling five minutes to recover. According to the Unified Rules of MMA adopted by the Vegas commission, a downed opponent is when a fighter has at least one knee on the canvas, and knee strikes to downed opponents while the offensive fighter is standing is illegal.
As Sterling could not recover in the 5 minutes he was allotted, referee Mark Smith called the bout and disqualified Yan for the illegal knee. Thus, Sterling was declared the new bantamweight champion and became the first fighter to win a championship by DQ. Anthony Smith had the chance to become the first, as many recall, but he refused and was eventually stopped by then 205-pound champion Jon Jones.
Many called Sterling an actor after he was spotted wearing the belt with pride weeks after, but others say he made the right decision by keeping himself safe and avoiding an Anthony Smith-type situation that proved to be career-altering. Whatever the case, the UFC has sought to rectify any controversy surrounding the first fight with a rematch, many called for.
Keys to the Rematch
Defending champion Sterling needs to make some serious adjustments if he wants to retain his title, as he was knocked down in his first fight with Yan. He went out swinging early, which made sense at the time as Yan would pick him apart on the feet if he hadn’t become aggressive. Controlling the flow and pace of the fight is paramount for Sterling. However, he gassed out fairly early and the fight became Yan’s to lose. He did outland Yan 97-86, but he was also taken down seven times.
For Sterling to have any chance, he must drastically improve his takedown defense and make it a crucial part of his game. Many fighters have risen to stardom on the strength of their takedown defense, and Sterling cannot afford to wrestle with a Russian. Additionally, he cannot be too aggressive, as Petr Yan is an intelligent fighter and will look for any openings to exploit.
For Petr Yan, he should look to take the same game plan into the second fight as he did the first. Takedowns are important for him to maintain control of the pace of the fight, and it is an easy way to score points and keep up a steady offense. He does have to watch for submissions though, as Sterling is slick with his jiujitsu. He recently caught rising star Cory Sandhagen with a rear-naked choke to earn the title shot against Yan.
UFC 267: The Rest of the Card
The rest of the card at UFC 267 looks as exciting, if not more, than the title matchup between Yan and Sterling. MMA Junkie reported that Glover Texeira and Jan Blahowicz will square off for the light heavyweight title, something fans have been waiting to see. Here’s how the card stacks up.
- Light Heavyweight Title Bout: Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira
- Bantamweight Title Bout: Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan
- Strawweight Bout: Virna Jandiroba vs. Amanda Ribas
- Welterweight Bout: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Li Jingliang
- Light Heavyweight Bout: Shamil Gamzatov vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
- Heavyweight Bout: Walt Harris vs. Tai Tuivasa
- Lightweight bout: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Islam Makhachev
- Flyweight Bout: Allan Nascimento vs. Tagir Ulanbekov
- Heavyweight Bout: Marcin Tybura vs. Alexander Volkov
- Featherweight Bout: Ricardo Ramos vs. Zubaira Tukhugov
- Featherweight Bout: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Tristan Connelly
How do you see this fight between two stars playing out? Feel free to let us know in the comments!
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