JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ahead of his quest to regain a UFC title, a member of Petr Yan’s inner circle thinks the former champion is looking in the best form of his career.
Yan (16-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) lost the bantamweight title to Aljamain Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) in controversial fashion 13 months ago when he landed an illegal knee late in the fourth round. Sterling didn’t continue and won the title by disqualification.
At UFC 273 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., they’ll run it back in the co-main event. Sterling hasn’t fought since he won the belt. Yan won the interim title against Cory Sandhagen this past October. His manager, Danny Rubenstein of Ruby SE, on Thursday told MMA Junkie Yan has a lot going for him heading into the rematch.
“He’s great – I’ve honestly never seen him look better,” Rubenstein said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people around him, outside of him – everybody is very impressed by what he’s been doing and especially this camp and how he’s looked this camp.
“His weight is good. (He has) no injuries, which is pretty much a first for him. Every other fight, he’s had some kind of injury. The Jimmie Rivera fight, he was in the hospital the week before the fight. So everything has always been, with Petr, very difficult getting to the fight. He’s always made it there and always performed very well. But the fact that he’s healthy now and no injuries, I think it’s going to be a good week for him.”
Yan and Sterling may be the co-feature, but their back-and-forth banter at Thursday’s pre-fight news conference took headliner status, at least for the day.
Yan is a heavy betting favorite at Tipico and repeatedly said he easily will handle Sterling. In their first fight, Yan was up two rounds to one from two of the three judges before the illegal knee.
Rubenstein said he doesn’t think Yan will have any similar issues Saturday, though.
“He knows it was a mistake, and obviously he’s paid a dear price for it over the last year,” he said. “I think he knows the rules. Aljo’s had a lot of fun with it, which is fine – it sells the fight. I don’t expect there to be any issues this fight. But Petr’s a savage – he wants to go out there and hurt you. Sometimes, slip-ups arise.”
Although it’s been the hot thing to do for UFC champions to go after belts in divisions adjacent to where they have titles, Rubenstein doesn’t see that in the near future for Yan. Instead, he thinks he’ll continue to take on challenges at bantamweight, provided he beats Sterling on Saturday.
“Mentally, it’s been a year, two years, of always looking at Aljo as the next guy,” Rubenstein said. “I think Petr’s ready to put that behind him and move on. I don’t know if it’s T.J. (Dillashaw) next, could be (Sean) O’Malley. He’s been on a good run. I think there’s a lot of options for Petr. I don’t think one of those options is going up (to featherweight), though. I know a lot of people want him to maybe challenge for the ’45 belt. I think ’35 is where he’s at. I think there are competitors at ’35, and he needs to do a little more work in that division.”