“I live inside his head,” Yan said of Sterling on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “The man who ran away once will always run again. He has a chicken heart, very small.”
Yan captured the interim 135-pound title in a five-round classic with Cory Sandhagen in the co-main event of UFC 267 this past Saturday in Abu Dhabi. “No Mercy” earned a unanimous decision, getting a trio of 49-46 scorecards to climb back into the win column.
Originally, Yan was scheduled to run it back with Sterling — who won the undisputed title over Yan via disqualification at UFC 259 after taking an illegal knee — however “Funk Master” had to withdraw due to his surgically repaired neck not being fully healed.
While Yan hasn’t fully gotten over the DQ that cost him a world championship, getting the victory and a title wrapped around his waist helped him take a step forward.
“Of course, it helps to move on,” Yan said. “I know it’s called an interim belt, but in fact it has all the functions of the real belt, too. When I get the chance and opportunity to beat up Sterling again, I will do it in a more dominant way to leave no doubts who the real champion is.”
The loss to Sterling snapped an impressive 10-fight win streak for Yan, and was his first defeat in just under five years. The 28-year-old initially captured UFC gold with a fifth-round TKO win over Jose Aldo at UFC 251 in July 2020 and earned that opportunity with a 6-0 start inside the octagon, which included wins over Jimmie Rivera, John Dodson, and Urijah Faber.
In the fight with Sterling, Yan was up 29-28 on two of the scorecards, while one judge saw Sterling ahead, but it was clear that momentum had clearly shifted in the Russian’s favor before the fight-ending illegal knee in the fourth round.
Between the dueling storylines, the rivalry, and a chance to unify the title in — arguably — the promotion’s deepest division, Yan is aware of how big the potential rematch could be.
“I understand now that it’s a bigger fight and people expect to see it again, even though I already believe I beat him up once,” Yan explained. “Once I sign the contract, I will be 100 percent focused to do it again.
“I’m going to hurt him real bad this time.”
Yan believes he will return to action in “February or March,” and if it isn’t against Sterling, he’s ready for the former champion T.J. Dillashaw, or whomever the UFC sends his way.
“I don’t care who is next,” Yan said. “I’ve got the belt, I’ve got the pay-per-view [points], give me anyone.”