UFC 259: Sterling wants to use reach advantage to beat Yan

After his win over Jose Aldo to claim the Bantamweight Championship vacated by Henry Cejudo, Petr Yan will carry out his first title defence against Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259.

'Funk Master' Aljamain Sterling will get a shot at the Bantamweight Championship during Saturday's UFC 259, seven years after his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Finally, the 'Funk Master' Aljamain Sterling will get a shot at the Bantamweight Championship during Saturday's UFC 259, seven years after his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut. His opponent at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas will be the ruthless Petr Yan, who will make his first title defence.

Yan, currently holding a 15-1 MMA win-loss record and 7-0 in UFC, had defeated former featherweight champion Jose Aldo to claim the vacant belt at UFC 251 on the Fight Island during July 2020.

Back then, the present No. 1 contender Sterling was ranked higher than Yan, and several experts associated with the sport felt the former could have possibly been part of the fight for the top prize in the division. Sterling still feels that way.

"I should have been the next guy in line. I beat the next highest-ranked guy, Pedro Munhoz, who knocked out the former champion (Cody Garbrandt). Maybe they thought Petr and Aldo together would be more exciting. I should have fought Aldo or Yan or Corey Sandhagen or Henry Cejudo that night.

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"I had to jump through a couple of hoops, and certain things were standing in my way. The universe has a weird way of moving things out of the way for you and shaping this path. So hopefully, this is a sign that all the stars align, and I get this job done," the 31-year-old American told Sportstar.

Submission specialist Sterling also spoke about a couple of strategies to counter his hard-hitting Russian opponent.

"Yan is tough. He's durable and a gamer. He's a pressure fighter who keeps the fight in front of you the entire time and walks you down so that he can land that big shot. He's got good kicks and boxing. It seems like he has relatively good hand speed too, and there is pop to his punches," he added.

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"I'm just as tough, and I've got cardio too. I've got the reach advantage. It's just a game of inches, and this is the highest level. Whoever makes the first mistake is going to be the one laying on their back. We don't know much about Yan's grappling. I think that's where I can exploit him the most. I could strike with him, but why play that game when I don't have to? It's a complex fight. I just have to make sure that I take my time and find openings."

If he wins the Bantamweight belt, Sterling promises to be a fighting champion who awards title shots based on the divisional rankings.

"I'm going to win the belt and fight the next contender. I was given this opportunity, and I would like to do the same for others, proving that I'm the best. Rankings are there for a reason. We should make rankings great again and make them stand for something," he concluded.

Watch UFC 259 - Blachowicz vs Adesanya on March 7, 2021, LIVE on Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 channels from 8:30 AM IST.