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Sterling: Pull-out Pete is paper champ, won UFC title by whooping ‘a lot of old men’

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UFC 251: Yan v Aldo Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Reigning UFC bantamweight titleholder Petr Yan will (finally) defend his 135-pound strap against No. 1-ranked division contender Aljamain Sterling at the UFC 259 pay-per-view (PPV) event, scheduled for this Sat. night (March 6, 2021) at APEX in Las Vegas.

For Sterling, this bout will give “No Mercy” the opportunity to prove he’s the real deal and not just the guy who was in the right place at the right time. The loss of TJ Dillashaw back in early 2019 blew the division wide open and Yan managed to capitalize.

But then bailed on his first Sterling fight at UFC 256.

“I do think he has to legitimize himself and he has to beat me,” Sterling told MMA Fighting. “I can’t see anybody else who can do that for him. I’ve beaten just about everybody in this weight class or fought everybody in this weight class just to get to this position. I’ve had 13 UFC fights, this is going to be my 14th fight, finally getting the title shot. He’s had seven fights and the guys he’s fought, in terms of the caliber of opponents, I’ve been in that top five gauntlet for quite a bit now.”

Yan (15-1) captured the vacant crown with a technical knockout win over Jose Aldo at UFC 251 last July. It was the tenth straight victory for the Russian bruiser since crossing over from Absolute Championship Akhmat roughly two years back.

As for Sterling (19-3), the “Funk Master” bounced back from a knockout loss to Marlon Moraes by stringing together five straight wins, including his UFC 250 submission victory over red-hot contender Cory Sandhagen last June.

“I know he’s a bad dude,” Sterling continued. “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.”

We’ll find out this weekend in “Sin City.”