Ahead of his UFC 259 championship challenge this weekend, Aljamain Sterling is eager to prove that incumbent bantamweight best, developing rival, Petr Yan is just a paper champion.
Sterling, who makes his well-overdue championship fight debut this weekend against the Dudinka native, has continuously questioned the level of competition Yan faced on his way to undisputed bantamweight goal, as has many of his 135-pound counterparts.
Earning his #1 rank in the division, the Uniondale native featured at UFC 250 in June, stopping the now #2 ranked, Cory Sandhagen in a title-eliminator inside the opening minute with an impressive rear-naked choke.
The rivalry between Yan and Sterling has been further fueled recently, with the reigning champion both promising a swift title knockback against the challenger, as well as a “very violent finish“.
As per the above mentioned, Sandhagen — Yan was more or less handed the bantamweight throne on a “silver platter” via his wins over veterans, Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo, with Sterling echoing those sentiments ahead of this weekend’s championship showdown.
“He’s (Petr Yan) only fought Jimmie Rivera, you could say Jose Aldo — Jose Aldo is a tough dude — but fighting a guy who has a loss in the division for the title doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Sterling said during an interview with MMA Fighting. “Cory Sandhagen and myself were ranked higher than him and I would argue that we had better résumés. (Sandhagen) beat (Raphael) Assuncao, I had just beaten Pedro Munhoz, who had just knocked out the former champion (Cody Garbrandt).“
Whilst Sterling isn’t necessarily impressed with the talent or level of opposition Yan has met so far in his Octagon stint, he can admit that the Russian is a solid fighter, however, he still needs to get past him to prove he isn’t a “paper champ“.
“I know he’s (Petr Yan) a bad dude,” Sterling said. “But at the end of the day, he’s beaten up a lot of old men and he has to beat a young lion still. I think for him he wants to prove this more than anything and I think that’s his driving factor. To prove he really is the champion.“
“For me, it’s to prove he’s been the paper champ this entire time and the real champ was the guy who fought Cory Sandhagen and finished the fight in under two minutes.“
As part of his five-fight winning-spree, Sterling has submitted the above mentioned, Sandhagen, Cody Stamann, and Brett Johns, as well as nabbing unanimous decision victories over Pedro Munhoz and common-foe, Jimmie Rivera.