Aljamain Sterling is on top of the world after defeating Petr Yan at UFC 273 as “The Funkmaster” cemented his position as the undisputed UFC bantamweight champion in Jacksonville.
His split-decision victory over Yan saw Sterling move on from the controversy of his championship coronation, which came under unusual circumstances when Yan was disqualified from their first fight for an illegal knee.
Sterling was left unable to continue in that fight, but his celebrations in the days that followed that title win turned a host of fans against the New Yorker, who claimed he was not a legitimate champion.
But, after he edged a close contest with Sterling in the co-main event at UFC 273, Sterling said he proved his worth as the UFC’s top bantamweight, and is happy to move on as the legitimised, undisputed champion.
“I feel a lot of redemption from my last performance and just put a little bit more respect back on my career and everything I’ve done just to get here,” he told Megan Olivi on ESPN after his victory.
“People don’t understand the adversity I had to climb through, just like everybody else in everyday life. I’m a blue-collar worker. And I’m just like one of those people, you know, the ones that were bashing me for having a bad day in the office? How many bad days in the office have you had? So I’m just glad I had a little redemption tonight.
“I didn’t end the way I wanted to. But in my head, I had a little bit of an adrenaline dump in that second round, I thought I could have gotten him out of there. I sprinted a bit. And he came back in that fourth and fifth round really hard. So I’m just glad I was able to tough that out and not get finished. And just to stay in the fight because, man, that’s a tough dude.”
Sterling said he’s more than happy to face Yan in a third fight, but revealed that his sights are set elsewhere, with former champion TJ Dillashaw likely to be his next opponent.
“You know, (Yan’s) now 0-2 against me. So if he wants to run it back, you run it back,” he said.
“But I got my sights set on somebody else right now. TJ, where you at?”
Sterling’s best round of the fight came in Round 2, when he took Yan to the canvas and dominated him after taking his back and threatening to finish the Russian with a submission. But the champion said that his rival did well to hold him off and make the necessary tweaks to his game to stay out of trouble on the ground.
“I thought I was going to tee him up pretty bad in that second round. And then he made a little adjustment,” he explained.
“I was about to fall off. And then, once he was able to do that, I had to reclaim position, otherwise (I’d) lose the position, you know? So he’s a tough dude. He’s smart. He knows how to play, he’s well rounded.
“I’m sure we’re gonna see each other again and my wrestling definitely paid off but I can’t end like that. That’s that’s the main thing that’s my main takeaway tonight. Don’t end the fight like that. Always end the way you start, like a freaking champion. And that’s it.”
A bout between Sterling and Dillashaw would seem to be a straightforward booking for the UFC, but Sterling said that, after an intense period recovering from surgeries to get back to fighting fitness, he wants to take a short break with his fiancee before plotting his return to the octagon, and his next title defence.
“I do need a little bit of time off, because I’ve been training for 13 months – it’s been a long, long time,” he said.
“Normally after every fight I take like a one week vacation to decompress. I haven’t been able to do that. You know, all the people’s scrutiny, talking crap about me. I had to make sure I was in the gym, doing my PT just to get back here so I could do what I love, earn a living.
“Now I think it’s time my fiance and I earned a little bit of a vacay – a bae-cay!”