During Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, the UFC bantamweight champion called the interim title fight in Abu Dhabi a “very brilliant fight from both guys,” and one that also happened to reveal some useful information for his future.
“It was good to know who the true No. 2 contender is, because they’re going to lose to No. 1, and that’s all that matters, baby,” Sterling said.
The media-savvy Sterling knows what to say to cut a good promo, to be sure. Even before a longstanding neck injury ruled him out of the event this past Saturday, he willingly put himself in the spotlight to poke at Yan and do battle with “thumb-pushers” who repeatedly tweet clown emojis at him to say he’s an impostor holding the belt.
Yan blocked him on Instagram, but Sterling continues to fire back at all of his doubters, waiting for the moment he can show them up. He can assure everyone that moment will come sooner than later.
“I want to fight the guy,” Sterling said. “I get paid to fight the guy. I want to make money. I haven’t gotten paid in, what, like seven months now? So it would be nice to make some money, and I can’t wait to do it and shove it up everyone’s asses.
“I’m going to be so petty, man. I try to be humble about my wins. I always talk sh*t before the fight to all my opponents — I always try be humble about the wins. But this one, there’s something different where I just feel like it’s deserved. And either way, if things — knock on wood — don’t go my way, and he decides to do the same thing, that’s fine. I’ll eat it. I’m a man of my word. I back up my words. I have no problem eating sh*t if I lose. But at the same time, I really do in my heart feel like I’m better than this guy, and I can’t wait to just have everyone just suck it.”
With just one more month of physical therapy and strength and conditioning, Sterling believes he’ll have under control the neurological symptoms that have delayed his recovery from neck surgery. He’s technically cleared to fight, but he’s making sure there’s nothing holding him back before he books his title unifier with Yan.
When he agreed to fight at UFC 267, Sterling said, he was shortening a six-month layoff ordered by doctors to begin training — not to be ready for a fight. Eventually, he said, his body ruled out a quicker return.
These days, however, things are looking up. The curvature in his spine is improving after the replacement of his C6-C7 vertebrae in his neck were replaced.
“If you ask me, the type of trainings and the stuff I’ve been doing to people in the room, I like where I’m at, compared to where I was before, where I was kind of struggling to get through the practice sessions,” he said. “That’s the energy shift where I think I’m back, baby.”
Sterling hopes to be added to the UFC 270 card in January, but given the two title fights already on deck for the Jan. 22 event, UFC 271 on Feb. 12 appears to be a more logical choice. The bantamweight champ doesn’t want to wait much past that.
“If I could fight this guy tomorrow, I would, but it obviously doesn’t work like that,” he said. “I have to really make sure I get myself prepared for five rounds, which is not easy. You can’t do that overnight. I’m just eager to get back out there, and I finally got questions answered about Petr Yan’s ability and skills — he’s the real deal. I just think I’m better.”
The delay in Sterling’s return prompted another bantamweight candidate, T.J. Dillashaw, to opine that the champ may never fight again after undergoing neck surgery. The former bantamweight champ Dillashaw, who returned this year after a two-year anti-doping suspension, has also said he’s been offered the next title shot despite a recent surgery to repair an injured knee he suffered in a recent decision over Sandhagen.
Sterling countered that other UFC fighters like Alan Jouban have returned to fight and win in the octagon after neck surgery, and he won’t hear any of that talk.
“F*ck T.J,” Sterling said. “F*ck T.J. Let T.J. wait. That b*tch-ass motherf*cker can wait, just like that. The guy’s a f*cking cheater. He had a close fight. A lot of people still don’t even think he won the fight by hugging another man by the waist. At least I actually go for submissions. I think there’s people that deserve to unify the belts that have the belts. Am I crazy? How do you not unify the belts? That makes no sense.
“Let T.J. wait, and it’s not my fault he got his knee ripped off in that fight with Sandhagen. That’s on him, so it is what it is. He’s got to wait, just like everyone else has to wait their turn. He waited two years already, right? He can wait another couple months.”
Yan’s steady pace and increasing aggression are a concern for Sterling, as is the boxing and counter-wrestling that eventually wore down Sandhagen late in UFC 267’s co-headliner. Those skills didn’t get any more significant, however, than his first meeting with the interim champ.
Sterling knows what he’s getting into, and the biggest change from the first to second fights is going to be how he shows up.
“I don’t hate the guy,” he said of Yan. “I think he’s a good competitor. I still think he’s a dirty fighter, though ... just check his track record with all his other fights. I really do look forward to the chess match. I think this is going to be a really good, close battle. And I know once I get him down, I’m not going to make the same mistake I did where I came in not eating food and coming in and taking him down and then throwing hammerfists instead of controlling position and doing what I do. I got ahead of myself. I know what I’m going to do in this next one. I think the blueprint is there.”