While most of the attention is on the main event for the light heavyweight title between Jan Blachowicz and Israel Adesanya, the vast majority of people in the space believe the most intriguing matchup on the entire UFC 259 card from a competitive standpoint will take place two fights before it.
Kicking off the world championship triple header is the bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling this Saturday at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. Currently, the betting lines are as close to a pick ‘em as you can get.
Calling the action octagon side—alongside Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier as MMA Fighting first reported on Tuesday—will be Jon Anik. With many memorable events called already on his resume, UFC 259 is right up there in terms of excitement. When it comes to the fight between Yan and Sterling, the intrigue factors are at a sky high.
“I think the fight is properly priced and I can’t wait to see it,” Anik told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck.. “They’ll get two-way action on both of these guys. I will say, most of the fighters I’ve been talking to seem to be backing Aljamain Sterling, even if its a 60 percent majority. I’ll also tell you that the Aljo people seem more convicted than the Yan people, but I had a handicapper on my show [this week] and he was bullish about Petr Yan at this price, what he’s done from a defensive grappling standpoint in his UFC career.
“This is the fight that’s closest on paper and I think that’s why the fans are just jonesing to see it play out.”
It’s been an over seven-year journey in the UFC for Sterling to get his first shot at a world title. Coming into the promotion in 2014, “Funk Master” would win his first four fights and was arguably one fight away from fighting for the 135-pound championship less than two years later and dropped a split decision to Bryan Caraway at UFC Fight Night 88 in May 2016.
After dropping another split decision to Raphael Assuncao in his next fight, Sterling would earn decision wins over Augusto Mendes and Renan Barao before suffering a vicious KO at the flying knee of Marlon Moraes in December 2017.
That night changed everything for Sterling as he’s gone on to win his next five, including a first-round submission win over Cory Sandhagen in his most recent appearance at UFC 250 to become the No. 1 contender.
In Anik’s eyes—as Sterling has stated in the build to the matchup—the challenger’s advantages seem to be clear heading into the high-level contest.
“I’m glad I don’t have to make a pick,” Anik said. “I’m as fascinated [as most are]. I would start with Aljo, from whom I’ve expected big things for a long time and Ray Longo is one of my best friends. He’s been on my podcast since episode one six years ago so I have a pretty good feel for the inner workings of Aljo and him building to this moment in time.
“I also think that stylistically this is a favorable matchup for him, and he’s getting it in a 25-foot octagon as opposed to a 30-footer, which I think limits some of what can be done. I’m not sitting here saying that Aljo can’t beat Petr Yan in a kickboxing match, because I think that he probably could, but I do feel there’s a clear path of less resistance for Aljamain Sterling to get to his grappling, his wrestling and submission game.”
Yan has been sensational since signing with the UFC, winning all seven of his fights which include unanimous decision victories over John Dodson and Jimmie Rivera, and stoppages of Urijah Faber at UFC 245 and Jose Aldo at UFC 251 to become bantamweight champion.
“No Mercy” is unbeaten over a five-year span and continues to add new wrinkles to his game. The challenger may be a popular pick but Anik sees a lot of paths to victory for the champion on Saturday night.
“For Petr Yan, he’s held up very well when people have tested that skill from him,” Anik explained. “He has been unbelievable in the UFC: 7-0, must-see TV every step of the way, with some of the best boxing you’ve ever seen and has those defensive skills, the heart, the mental toughness. He’s the total package.”