If he becomes champion at UFC 259, Aljamain Sterling has vowed to defend the bantamweight title against only the highest-ranked contenders in the division.
Ahead of this weekend's UFC 259 pay-per-view, Sportskeeda caught up with the #1 ranked bantamweight in the promotion, Aljamain Sterling. During the conversation, Aljamain Sterling spoke about how he wants to provide an opportunity to the most deserving contenders to fight for the title if he becomes champion at UFC 259.
Apart from that, Aljamain Sterling also spoke at length about how he envisions the title fight against Petr Yan will turn out this weekend. 'Funk Master' also revealed whether his rivalry with Yan has become personal after the pair traded jibes on social media over the past few weeks.
Given below are excerpts from our conversation with Aljamain Sterling:
Q. ) If you manage to beat Petr Yan, will you consider a rematch against Cory Sandhagen as your first title defense?
Aljamain Sterling: "I'm going to win this belt, and I'm going to fight the next contender, it's as simple as that. I've been given my opportunity, would like to do the same for others, and prove that I'm best. Rankings are there for a reason. We should "make rankings great again" and make them stand for something."
Q. ) How do you envision the fight against Yan panning out?
Aljamain Sterling: "Petr Yan is a very tough dude, he's durable, he's a gamer. He's a pressure fighter, he keeps the fight in front of you the entire time, he walks his opponents down so that he can land that big shot. He's got good kicks and good boxing. It seems like he has relatively good hand speed as well, there is pop to his punches. We will say we don't know much about his grappling. I think that's where I can exploit him the most. I could strike with him but why play that game when I don't have to. I've got the reach advantage. I'm just as tough, just as durable guy, just as much cardio as he has. This is just a game of inches, and at this highest level, whoever makes the first mistake is going to be the one who ends up laying on their back. This is a very complex fight. I just have to make sure I take my time and find my openings."
Q. ) You and Yan have gone back and forth on social media ahead of the fight. Is that just casual banter to hype up the fight or have things indeed become personal? Does it affect your mentality when you step inside the cage?
Aljamain Sterling: "I think it's just part of the game. I think it's a little bit of his personality, a little bit of mine as well. And I think both of us are gamers. We kind of talk the talk, and we like to try to walk the walk. It's fun to have someone willing to oblige, I think when you do that it makes the fight bigger."
"There's more at stake. It's not just a fight, it's bragging rights, and who's going to eat their words. It makes this exciting for me. And I don't know if he's taking anything to heart, but I'm not. At the end of the day, it's just a fight, life goes on. So I've just got to go out there and do what I've got to do to make sure I get my hand raised."
Q. ) You are finally getting the opportunity to fight for the title and you've had to wait a fairly long time for it. Now that we have officially entered fight week, how's the feeling?
Aljamain Sterling: "For this fight, I'm definitely nervous - I get nervous for every fight, though. The only time I didn't get nervous - which was very, very weird - was the Marlon Moraes fight. I learned that those nerves are your safety net in terms of helping you react the way that you should in a fight or flight situation like a high-level fistfight."
"I'm anxious. I'm nervous. I'm concerned. I'm hopeful. I'm confident. I just can't wait to see what's going to actually happen. And that's kind of where my mindset is at. I think I've done all the right things, I left no stone unturned. And I think good things are going to happen. But obviously, it's a fight, anything can happen - that's what makes it scary and that's what makes it fun. So I'm going to be excited for a couple more days and then we can get out there and get after it under those bright lights."
Aljamain Sterling will take on Petr Yan in the co-main event of UFC 259 this weekend.
Do you think Aljamain Sterling has what it takes to become the new UFC bantamweight champion? Sound off in the comments.