Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Petr Yan isn’t satisfied with just winning the UFC bantamweight title. In fact, he plans on holding the title for a long, long time, while also hoping to mix things up a bit.
The matchup between Yan and Sterling was originally set to take place at UFC 256 in December before the champion was forced to withdraw for a number of reasons due to COVID-19 restrictions and travel issues. Ahead of the rebooked title bout, “No Mercy” made his way to the United States in January to train at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla.
“Change of scenery is good,” Yan told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “It’s good to get ready here and [then] kick some ass after.”
In what he deemed to MMA Fighting as his toughest test at 135 pounds, Yan captured the vacant championship with a fifth-round TKO win over former featherweight titleholder Jose Aldo at UFC 251. As special of an accomplishment as that was for the 27-year-old, he has already put it behind him.
“At the time, I really enjoyed the moment defeating a legend and a killer in Jose Aldo,” Yan said. “But right now, I’m not really thinking about it. Right now my focus is on Sterling and how to destroy this man.
“Being champion is a very big responsibility, but just winning the belt was not my ultimate goal. My goal right now is to defend this title multiple times and I’m completely focused on that. Aljamain is just the next step in achieving my goal.”
The rivalry between Yan and Sterling has been ongoing over the last several months—especially on social media. Both fighters, at times, have been able to feed off of the other in a slew of entertaining exchanges.
When asked if Sterling was his professional archnemesis to this point in his career, Yan wasn’t ready to take that stance just yet; although there certainly seems to be some animosity towards the challenger.
In fact, Yan is ready to take the UFC 259 bantamweight title fight a step further with a unique challenge and proposal.
“He likes to talk a lot,” Yan stated. “He’s a big mouth and sometimes I just happen to answer his tweets. For me, he’s just another opponent, but I understand that he’s the challenger [and] he needs to attract attention that he needs so much. As I started training and preparing, recently he’s gone quiet. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened to his big mouth.
“Aljamain also has his teammate Merab [Dvalishvili]—Georgian judoken sambo fighter. My training partner Denis Lavrentyev is also a decorated judoka. If they have the guts, we can do it two on two: I’ll fight Sterling and my training partner Dennis can fight his guy Merab, and we’ll show them what the ‘No Mercy’ team is looking like. We’re gonna break them.
“Aljamain has already gone quiet. When he hears that, he’ll be gone for a while.”
Following a bit of a rough patch between May 2016 and December 2017 where he lost all three of his professional bouts—including a vicious KO loss to Marlon Moraes—Sterling has found all cylinders clicking at the right time. “Funk Master” became the No. 1 contender in one of the promotion’s deepest divisions with five consecutive wins, which includes victoris over Brett Johns, Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz.
While most have been impressed with Sterling’s recent run, Yan has a hard time seeing how the challenger can possibly emerge victorious at UFC 259—especially after his title winning stoppage win over one of the greatest to ever step foot inside the octagon.
“Aldo is one of the toughest fighters in MMA,” Yan said. “He punches hard, he has an unbreakable heart, he’s a very, very strong fighter. Sterling on the other hand, I don’t know what he’s hoping for when he fights me. Is he hoping just to work his jiu-jitsu on me? I don’t understand. I work and train with black belts so it’s not a problem for me.
“I’m training to break him and destroy him. I can’t see what he’s going to offer me and I’m determined to prove to everyone that I deserve to be champion. I’m gonna defend this belt for a long time.
“Right now, mentally, I’m so strong. I believe, and I have no doubt in my mind, that I’m going to beat him in every aspect and I believe that these thoughts are materializing. Whatever you think becomes real. From myself, I just need to be focused, cold-blooded and just go forward to get this thing done.”
While he’s certainly not overlooking the task at hand, Yan told MMA Fighting he already has a name in mind for his next opponent and will call his shot with a victory on March 6. On the road to the legendary status he hopes to attain, Yan doesn’t plan on spending much time with Sterling when the finally collide in Las Vegas.
“I want to finish him,” Yan exclaimed. “Every time I fight the goal is always to finish the opponent and this time is going to be no different.”