Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight rivals Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling will go to war this weekend (Sat., March 6, 2021) at UFC 259 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It took Yan just seven UFC fights to capture the undisputed title, which makes for a meteoric rise. However, there is a somewhat fair argument that his biggest wins come over the contenders of yesteryear. Fortunately, he has an opportunity here to immediately shut down that narrative, as Sterling’s recent success is undeniable. “Funkmaster” has won five straight fights against largely elite competition, but more than simply winning, Sterling has dominated those foes, looking very much like a champion in the making.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Jose Aldo (UFC 251), Jimmie Rivera (UFC 238), Urijah Faber (UFC 245), John Dodson (UFC Fight Night 145), Douglas Silva de Andrade (UFC 232)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Yan is a tremendous pressure fighter. From either stance, Yan advances on his opponents with smart combinations, tight defense and a ton of traps layered into his offense.
Lately, Sterling’s kicking game is nearly as responsible for his success as his wrestling expertise. He’s a long Bantamweight, happy to throw so many kicks that his opponents never get a chance to answer.
This is where Yan’s Muay Thai experience should prove so valuable. Even without Sterling’s lanky build, Yan has kick counters ingrained into his being. Each time Sterling fires a kick — whether it’s traditional round kick, front snap, or side push — Yan should be answering with either a counter kick or two punches and a kick.
Kicks are an absolutely huge part of Sterling’s offense. If he’s getting cracked on all his attempts to kick, it’s going to severely limit the challenger and draw out bad takedown attempts, which makes Yan’s life much easier.
Counter the kicks, pressure the wrestler and watch as big strikes add up.
Key Wins: Corey Sandhagen (UFC 250), Pedro Munhoz (UFC 238), Jimmie Rivera (UFC on ESPN 1), Renan Barao (UFC 214), Cody Stamann (UFC 238)
Key Losses: Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Night 123), Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: As discussed above, Sterling is a tremendous mix of kicks and takedowns. He’s also one of the nastiest strangle specialists in the game, capable of constricting his opponent’s neck from all sorts of strange angles.
Yan has yet to really struggle with being grounded inside the Octagon, but he’s also yet to face a wrestler quite like “Aljo.” As he did opposite Corey Sandhagen, there’s a real value in immediately going and testing his opponent’s defensive wrestling — he just may have a short, easy night if able to quickly take the back.
Of course, it would be unwise to bank on the early submission. In the event that the finish fails to materialize, Sterling’s big picture strategy should involve denying Yan the pocket and his usual pressure. Sterling has a great style to frustrate his foe, as he can hang further back and fling kicks at his opponent. Then, when Yan pushes forward and tries to swing for his jawline, that’s Sterling’s moment to duck into a takedown and force his foe to grapple.
If Sterling prevents Yan from getting his combinations flowing, the Russian is far less scary.
The Bantamweight title is on the line.
Yan is the new champion of a division on fire. There is so much Bantamweight talent, all the way from elite contenders like Sterling down to numerous prospects who are yet to score rankings. Maintaining that crown will be easy for no man, but this first title defense can help “No Mercy” set the tone. If Yan dispatches Sterling in his usual violent fashion, it goes a long way in proving Yan as one of the best fighters alive and a likely dominant champion.
On the other hand, Sterling believes he’s more deserving of the belt already. Well, here’s the chance to prove it. At 31 years of age, Sterling is undoubtedly in his prime, and all of his wins and losses over the years inside the Octagon have built him toward this match up. It’s a moment of culmination for the New Yorker, one that will see him walk away with either a belt or long road back to the top.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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At UFC 259, Petr Yan will attempt to defend his title opposite Aljamain Sterling. Which man leaves the cage strapped with gold?