UFC 267: Exciting Forces Collide to Determine Future in Yan vs Sandhagen

Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, UFC 259
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: (L-R) Petr Yan of Russia punches Aljamain Sterling in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 259 event at UFC APEX on March 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Though it is not for undisputed gold, there is still plenty of glory to be won for Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen as they compete for the interim bantamweight championship at UFC 267.

Now more than seven months later, the events of UFC 259 have incited every emotion from disbelief, shock, anger, and finally acceptance.  In the heat of the moment, Petr Yan delivered an illegal knee in a fight he seemed on the verge of rallying back to finish against Aljamain Sterling and it cost him the UFC bantamweight title.  Usually, the priority would be to run the fight back immediately so that the division may move on without controversy.  But circumstances have not allowed for such, as Sterling continues to recover from a lingering neck injury and the rematch fight ultimately falling apart roughly a month ago.  While the two have not had any shortage of exchanges on social media since March, their next encounter will simply have to wait.

Last March snapped a ten fight win-streak that saw Yan emerge as one of the elite bantamweights in the world.  Following an impressive run on the regional circuit in his native Russia, “No Mercy” replicated his success in the UFC where he cut a path through the likes of perennial contenders John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera, and Urijah Faber before finally winning the vacant title against the legendary José Aldo last July.  A win over Sandhagen on Saturday would further build his case as one of the best in the sport overall and build anticipation for his next fight.

Cory Sandhagen is looking for his own signature victory, and he has been gifted an amazing opportunity.  While he lost by a razor close margin to TJ Dillashaw in July, injuries to both Sterling and the former champion have opened the door for “The Sandman” to reach the sport’s summit and win a piece of UFC gold.  For a fighter who was already considered one of MMA’s most impressive prospects, it would be the culmination of a year’s long development that saw him go from a young talent on the regional scene in Colorado to one of the bantamweight division’s most complete fighters in the Octagon.

While he had been impressive leading up to his first UFC loss against Sterling last June, he has been nothing short of spectacular in his performances since then.  Back-to-back electrifying knockouts against Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar saw him become a far more intimidating force than ever before.  Should he replicate the same success against Yan, it could be argued that he would be the number one bantamweight to defeat despite Sterling and Dillashaw still at the top of the division.

The dynamic arsenal of Sandhagen brings plenty of problems for Yan to solve, but it requires “The Sandman” to have plenty of distance to use his reach and movement.  While Sandhagen is an unpredictable offensive threat on the feet, Yan is the best at bantamweight at maintaining a strong defense and pushing forward where his power and pressure have had a debilitating effect on all his opponents.  Sandhagen should look to use knees, uppercuts, and straight punches every time Yan looks to close the distance.  Yan should look to use feints and footwork to make his way inside where Sandhagen’s reach is neutralized and he can rip the body with power shots.

The winner is expected to meet current title holder Aljamain Sterling in the first half of 2022.  Considering “The Funkmaster” is on the mend following a lingering neck injury, a recovery setback could see the Yan/Sandhagen winner promoted to undisputed champion to face former champion TJ Dillashaw should the schedule necessitate another title bout on a card.