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Aljamain Sterling picks Petr Yan to win at UFC 280 but would be ‘extremely happy’ to face Sean O’Malley next

UFC 273: Volkanovski v The Korean Zombie Zombie Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Aljamain Sterling has a vested interest in every major fight at bantamweight, but none more so than the upcoming showdown between Petr Yan and Sean O’Malley at UFC 280.

As he prepares to defend his 135-pound title on the same night against T.J. Dillashaw in the co-main event, the New York native is keeping a close eye on Yan vs. O’Malley, because the winner could be the next person in line to challenge for the belt.

While Yan is a massive step up in competition for O’Malley, Sterling says there are still plenty of advantages that play into the popular up-and-comer’s favor.

“Honestly, it’s a win-win for O’Malley,” Sterling told MMA Fighting’s The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I know he said he’s not looking at it like that, but it’s a great opportunity stylistically. I think in a three-round fight, his chances of winning go up astronomically.

“Yan starts slow. He gets over-aggressive like he did against me in that first round and gets picked apart from the outside and banks on trying to catch you later on. I think that’s going to be an ill-advised mistake, because O’Malley’s good, he’s got great footwork. I think he has all the tools needed to win.”

That being said, Sterling still has questions about O’Malley, especially based on his ability to deal with adversity and come out on top when he’s not just dominating his competition.

There’s no better example of that than O’Malley’s only loss in the UFC, which came when he faced an aggressive charge from Marlon Vera. “Chito” got in O’Malley’s face and didn’t back down until he ultimately won the fight with a first-round TKO.

“The only question mark I have for him is the toughness,” Sterling said of O’Malley. “When Yan actually touches him up a bit and keeps chipping away, will he wilt or will he stay there and compete? That’s my only reservation with that matchup. I just have no idea how he’s going to fare when he gets some opposition pushed back at him.

“We saw it with [Marlon] ‘Chito’ Vera, [O’Malley] kind of folded. He had a little adversity. It’s hard for anyone to fight with a drop foot like that, but I think the way he kind of folded was just very telling. But of course that was a couple of years ago. He’s grown. It’s going to be interesting to see where he’s at.”

Despite engaging in a bitter rivalry with Yan for nearly two years, Sterling still praises his former foe because he knows just how difficult of a fight Yan can be for anybody, much less O’Malley, who hasn’t faced this kind of opposition before. The two even shared a friendly greeting when they bumped into each other in Abu Dhabi.

Their two title fights are part of the reason why Sterling favors Yan to get the job done on Oct. 22, although he certainly isn’t counting out O’Malley from pulling off the upset.

“I’ve been in there with Petr,” Sterling said. “I know he’s going to be there for the entire 15 minutes, in your face, looking to touch up O’Malley to the body, chop down his legs until he can get take off his head. O’Malley’s one of those guys who uses a lot of footwork, a lot of finesse. Tries to use a lot of feints, touch you up from the outside. He had a tough time with Pedro [Munhoz] in that first round, so it really just makes me wonder how he’s going to do with that style when he actually has someone that can mix it up with him and not be a human punching bag.

“I don’t know which way that fight’s going to go, but if I had to pick, I’m going with Yan. I just think he’s a little bit more experienced and he’s going to know how to make those adjustments because he’s had to have made them before on the biggest stage, which were title fights and five-round fights.”

Sterling’s pick of Yan comes from his honest opinion, but he’s certainly not opposed to O’Malley winning, especially considering the personal stakes that could be on the line.

Since arriving in the UFC, O’Malley has become one of the most popular and talked about fighters on the entire roster, and that usually translates into fan interest, television ratings, and pay-per-view buys.

As the reigning UFC bantamweight champion, Sterling knows facing O’Malley will probably result in a hefty payday. Conversely, he admitted that he just won’t have as much anticipation for a trilogy with Yan after already facing him in back-to-back fights.

“If O’Malley wins, I take out T.J., I’m extremely happy with taking on that matchup,” Sterling said. “Whichever happens, I’m going to be excited for either opportunity.

“Obviously with Yan, I’m not going to be as excited because we’ve seen each other twice already for damn near 10 rounds. I think we’re good on this one for a little bit longer at least. We’ll see. I like pay-per-view. I like money.”

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