Between now and the end of the month, five title fights split between two PPV cards are planned for the UFC. That’s a level of activity among the championship ranks rarely seen in years gone by. The fact that one fight is a champ vs. champ “super fight” is just the icing on the cake.
First up comes UFC 259 later this week. The gold fever gets underway with Petr Yan defending his 135lb title for the first time opposite Aljamain Sterling. That long-awaited showdown will be followed by double champ Amanda Nunes, putting her featherweight title on the line for the second consecutive occasion, against Megan Anderson. And finally, topping the first PPV of March will be Israel Adesanya, moving up to challenge for a second belt of his own against newly crowned light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.
Just a matter of weeks later, UFC 260 will arrive with a pair of title fights. In the co-main event, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will defend his title against someone not named Max Holloway for the first time, when he faces Brian Ortega. And then, the biggest, baddest rematch of them all: Stipe Miocic takes on Francis Ngannou with the UFC heavyweight championship at stake.
Plenty of action, plenty of opportunity, but what titles are likely to change hands?
UFC 259: Petr Yan (c) vs. Aljamain Sterling
Petr Yan’s rise in the bantamweight division seemed to sneak up on fight fans, but it really took hold right around the time he beat Jimmie Rivera. The unanimous decision win was the Russian’s fifth straight victory inside the octagon, and suddenly, Yan was a player. In his next outing, he smashed fan favorite Hall of Famer Urijah Faber with a head kick, and a bonafide contender was born. One fight later, Yan was facing former featherweight great Jose Aldo for gold, after Henry Cejudo up and left the division in a shock retirement last May, vacating the 135lb title in the process.
Since a 2018 date in Atlantic City against Brett Johns, Aljamain Sterling has slowly but steadily built up his own resume as a contender. A Suloev stretch against Cody Stamann, decisions against Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz, and a quick finish of fellow title hopeful Cory Sandhagen cemented Aljo’s spot as Yan’s first challenger.
There’s been a bit back-and-forth on social media ahead of this one, and the fight has been pushed back from its original date in December. That should make for fireworks inside the cage come Saturday — but can Sterling get his hand raised, and leave Yan as a one-and-done champion? This fight, frankly, is closer than it looks. Yan is a slight favorite with the oddsmakers. He’s never been submitted, or even stopped, his only loss a split decision to new Bellator contender Magomed Magomedov that Yan later avenged. Sterling, on the other hand, was stopped by Moraes, but he’s an improved fighter since that date.
Prediction: In a close fight, Yan retains his title — but this is far from set in stone