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3 reasons why Aljamain Sterling will beat Petr Yan at UFC 259

Will Aljamain Sterling become the next UFC Bantamweight champion at UFC 259?
Will Aljamain Sterling become the next UFC Bantamweight champion at UFC 259?
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 04 Mar 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

This weekend sees UFC 259 go down from Las Vegas; in one of three title fights on the show, Petr Yan defends his UFC Bantamweight crown against top contender Aljamain Sterling.

Petr Yan defeated Jose Aldo for the vacant title at UFC 251 last year. He is unbeaten in the UFC but Aljamain Sterling could be the man to defeat him.

This fight is a very close one on paper, and there’s a fair argument to be made for either man leaving as champion. However, Aljamain Sterling does appear to have a number of advantages in his favour.

On that note, here are three reasons why Aljamain Sterling will beat Petr Yan for the UFC Bantamweight title at UFC 259.


#3 We’ve never really seen anyone test Petr Yan’s grappling in the UFC

Petr Yan has never been tested by a grappler like Aljamain Sterling in the UFC
Petr Yan has never been tested by a grappler like Aljamain Sterling in the UFC

There’s no disputing the fact that Petr Yan is a fantastic fighter. He has never been beaten in the UFC and has only lost once in his MMA career, a split decision to Magomed Magomedov back in 2016.

Since arriving in the UFC in 2018, he has been a wrecking machine. ‘No Mercy’ has defeated seven opponents, finishing four of them via KO or TKO.

With some of the sharpest boxing we’ve seen in the UFC, an incredible gas tank and an incredible killer instinct, Petr Yan is clearly one of the best 135lbers on the planet right now.

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However, it’s probably fair to suggest that in the UFC, he has never really been tested on the ground.

Petr Yan obviously does have some grappling skills. He has only got one submission on his ledger – a pre-UFC fight in 2015 – but he has trained with some top grapplers at American Top Team in the past.

Petr Yan has also displayed some offensive ground skills in the UFC. He took down and stopped both Aldo and Douglas Silva de Andrade on the ground, for example, by using a ruthless ground-and-pound attack.

However, the Russian has definitely not faced a grappler like Aljamain Sterling before.

‘The Funk Master’ is not only a highly-credentialed All-American wrestler with excellent takedowns, he’s also a high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under UFC Hall of Famer Matt Serra.

Aljamain Sterling has put his grappling prowess to tremendous use in the UFC. He has finished four opponents inside the octagon via submission, most recently choking out highly ranked contender Cory Sandhagen.

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Sure, Petr Yan has proven he can hammer already hurt opponents from the top position. But how will he deal with someone like Aljamain Sterling, who’s capable of taking him down and potentially dominating him on the ground?

It’s a big question mark, and one that should definitely sway this fight in the challenger’s favour.


#2 Aljamain Sterling is no mug when it comes to striking

Aljamain Sterling
Aljamain Sterling's striking has improved dramatically over his UFC career

On paper at least, many observers would suggest that the UFC Bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling is a classic striker vs. grappler clash.

However, while it’s true that the challenger does favour a ground attack, to label ‘The Funk Master’ as simply a grappler would be doing him a massive disservice.

When he initially debuted in the UFC back in 2014, Aljamain Sterling was undoubtedly an awkward striker.

Despite his obvious athletic gifts, the New York native never seemed fully comfortable on his feet, and we saw him largely beaten in the striking realm by Raphael Assuncao in a 2017 loss.

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However, during the years that have followed, Aljamain Sterling’s striking game has developed in leaps and bounds.

‘The Funk Master’ now throws his opponents off by continually switching stances. And rather than stick with the herky-jerky boxing style that he initially used in the UFC, he now prefers to unleash an array of kicks at his opponents.

Aljamain Sterling is clearly so confident in his wrestling and grappling that he can afford to be a little lax when it comes to risking being taken down, and this shines through in the kicks he uses in the octagon.

In fact, ‘The Funk Master’ was largely able to defeat both Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz – strikers of some regard – on their feet in his fights with them in 2019.

Aljamain Sterling isn’t likely to knock Petr Yan out in their clash at UFC 259. And he’ll need to protect his chin. However, when you consider he’s only been stopped once – by a brutal knee strike from Marlon Moraes in 2017 – it’s safe to say that he’s a durable fighter.

With this in mind, to expect a one-sided fight should the two men remain on their feet would be a massive mistake. Petr Yan might be a better striker than Aljamain Sterling, but it’s doubtful that the challenger will be outgunned entirely.


#1 Aljamain Sterling should enjoy a decent size advantage over Petr Yan

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Ajamain Sterling
Ajamain Sterling's lanky frame makes him a dangerous opponent for any of the UFC's Bantamweights

Both Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling are basically the perfect size for the UFC’s Bantamweight division.

Both men clearly cut weight to make the 135lbs limit, but neither fighter looks depleted at the weight. Notably, neither Petr Yan nor Aljamain Sterling have ever missed weight for a UFC bout across a combined 21 fights.

But while Petr Yan (5’7.5“) stands half an inch taller than Aljamain Sterling (5’7”), if anyone has a size advantage at UFC 259, it’ll be ‘The Funk Master’.

That’s because Aljamain Sterling has a remarkably long and lanky frame despite his height. In fact, the native of New York has a 71” reach, giving him a four inch advantage over ‘No Mercy’ at the weekend.

And Aljamain Sterling is an expert at putting that long reach to use.

Sure, he doesn’t necessarily use a ramrod jab like other fighters with a long reach but like Jon Jones – who he’s been compared to before – ‘The Funk Master’ is brilliant at keeping his opponents at a distance that works for him, but not for them.

On the ground, meanwhile, Aljamain Sterling’s lanky frame becomes even more of a weapon. He’s even referred to himself as a “human anaconda” in the past for his ability to snake his long legs around an opponent.

And we saw in his recent UFC win over Cory Sandhagen that his long arms can be used to his advantage when it comes to slipping under an opponent’s chin for a choke.

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It’s worth noting too that his 2015 arm triangle win over Takeya Mizugaki – which came with Sterling on the bottom position – was also made possible by the length of his arms.

When compared to his opponent at UFC 259, Petr Yan might have an advantage in boxing – but to hit Aljamain Sterling he has to reach him first.

When you take into account the challenger’s lanky frame and the way in which he puts it to use, Aljamain Sterling has to be considered the more likely of the two to win this fight.

Published 04 Mar 2021, 18:50 IST
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