It may have taken a little longer than expected but Aljamain Sterling will get his first chance to fight for UFC gold later tonight (Sat., Mar. 6, 2021) at UFC 259 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, when “Funk Master” meets UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan.
Sterling, 31, made his UFC debut over seven years ago as one of the most hyped bantamweight fighters around. The New York native quickly went 4-0 inside of the Octagon before losses to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao slowed “Funk Master’s” trajectory. A 7-1 record since then has corrected the ship for Sterling entering the prime of his career and he now gets the chance to prove he’s the best bantamweight fighter in the world today.
“I’m going to be thinking, ‘Baby, we’re here,’” Sterling told UFC.com about his upcoming walk to the cage at UFC 259. “’We’re doing this. This is a real thing. This is five rounds, UFC gold on the line, a life-changing opportunity, and everything I’ve ever wanted and worked for. It’s right there in front of me, I just got to go out there and take it,’ and I think that’s what I’m thinking about.”
Standing in Sterling’s way will be the unflappable Yan. The Russian champion has produced an undefeated 7-0 record since his debut in 2018 and has scored recent TKO finishes over MMA legends Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber. Yan has proven to be one of the best strikers in the division and always seems to put himself in the right positions inside of the Octagon.
Sterling is a creative striker in his own right and can hold his own on the feet, but “Funk Master” is a wizard on the ground. That’s where he does his best work and it’s a part of his game he’ll lean on if given the chance at UFC 259.
“If you leave something out for me, I’m going to snatch it up,” Sterling said. “That’s just what I do in the training room, so I’m super comfortable when it comes to grappling, and striking is just a new element to my game, so I think it showed that I’m just dangerous no matter where the fight goes. People think that if I can’t get the takedown, I can’t strike, but I think they’ve seen in my previous fights now that I can stand up with some of the elite strikers in the division. Yan is going to be no different, and if I get the fight down to the ground, I think he knows it’s going to be a long night for him.”
Sterling, who is a black belt under former UFC champion Matt Serra, is coming off a massive submission finish over talented bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen. He also has submission finishes over UFC veterans Cody Stamann, Takeya Mizugaki, and Johnny Eduardo. “Funk Master” has proven time and time again to be one of the most dangerous grapplers in the division, but can he implement his ground game against a champion like Yan?
Sterling believes he can, but understands Yan is dangerous in all areas, including the ground.
“You know he’s a gamer,” Sterling said. “You know he’s tough. You know he’s durable. He’s going to bring the pace, and I think that’s what makes this fight super intriguing because what’s his approach going to be? Is he going to be looking to be the bully and march forward, where if you close the distance, that opens up a lot of opportunities for me, and that’s what I like. I like when guys get overzealous and give me an opportunity to tie them up.”
“I’ve got to take what this guy has and, unfortunately, it’s just how the game goes,” he added. “Being a title challenger, you just gotta go out there and be a dog. That’s really the only way I can explain it. I just gotta go out there and be a dog and grind out every single position that I can and every single takedown that I can, every single striking exchange, and just go out there and get my hand raised at all costs.”
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, which are scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. ET, followed by 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.