Petr Yan was willing to fight anyone, frankly, for the vacant UFC bantamweight title.
That includes Aljamain Sterling. Yan, who will face Jose Aldo for the belt this weekend at UFC 251, made that clear Wednesday, at the second of three media days for the card.
“I would have fought Sterling too. I would have fought anyone. It’s not my decision,” the Russian fighter told media outlets including Cageside Press. “The UFC matchmakers decided it’s going to be Aldo, and I’m glad it’s Aldo. He’s a very good fighter, and a legend of the sport. They said, probably Sterling is going to be next. So we can find out later.”
Sterling was the choice of many to face Yan after Henry Cejudo vacated the UFC’s 135lb title. Instead, the promotion tapped ex-featherweight champ Aldo. Off a loss. And so Yan (14-1) will have to get past “Scarface” instead. If he does so, it will have been the second straight UFC legend he’s gotten the better of. “No Mercy” knocked out Hall of Famer Urijah Faber back in December, via a head kick.
Of course, Saturday’s circumstances are very different. A belt is on the line. There’s a global pandemic raging. Fight camps have been limited at best in some cases. As to the impact he’s had, Yan wouldn’t say.
“Everything went great. I don’t see the point in talking about my training now. Even if I had no training, I would come here, and my motivation would be enough for me to win this title,” he stated.
One interesting twist in this fight is that years prior, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo trained together. Whether the experience will give either fighter an edge is questionable. But for his part, Yan does not see a fighter who has grown in the Aldo that is competing today.
“It was a great experience training with him before. We sparred, we grappled,” said Yan. As he pointed out, however, “it’s been more than four years ago.” Since then, Yan explained, “I’ve become a better fighter from that time. But I don’t see [that] he’s become a better fighter since that time. I think at best, he’s stayed the same.”
Regardless, Yan isn’t banking on their training experience as giving him any benefit. “I don’t think training with him is going to be a huge advantage for me. There’s so much tape on him, so much video, and he’s pretty much fighting in the same style for all those years. He’s going to pressure, he’s going to use his boxing and low kicks. I don’t think it’s going to be too much of an advantage for me.”
UFC 251 takes place this Saturday, July 11 on Fight Island (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi. The main card airs live on PPV.